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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 927
Brexit spin: demand a real workers' exit
Tory Chancellor Phillip Hammond's Autumn Statement estimated the cost of the Brexit vote to public borrowing as £59 billion. Despite his change of tack in delaying when the deficit must be paid off, he still intends for it to come out of the pockets of working-class people. This is on top of the more than £100 billion cuts already unloaded onto the poorest in society.
Firstly, how accurate is this figure? The government's estimates have hardly a great track record. The same Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) that came up with the £59 billion figure last week, said George Osborne had an extra £27 billion a year ago giving an unexpected sheen to public finances. These figures have now been quietly forgotten!
Now a report commissioned by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) for an alliance of pro-EU Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs, including Blairite Chuka Umunna, is warning of damage to all sectors of the economy if there is a 'hard Brexit'. In reality, this is the thin edge of the wedge towards arguing for a re-run referendum.
The ultimate defender of neo-liberalism, Tony Blair, has also entered the fray. Millions of workers saw the referendum as an opportunity to strike a blow against the capitalist elite and its austerity that Blair is very much a part of. The Blairite spin is that those who voted for Brexit fell for the right-wing racist populism of Farage, Johnson and Gove and will be responsible for plunging the economy into crisis.
The Socialist Party argued for a vote to leave the pro-business EU which has enshrined the vicious austerity that has been meted out to the likes of Greece and Ireland as well as de-regulation and privatisation which seeks to undermine workers' wages and rights. As we predicted, the vote was a massive defeat for the capitalist establishment and its political representatives, including the Blairites in Labour.
The chief architects of Tory austerity, Cameron and Osborne are history and May's administration is racked by divisions over the implementation of Brexit. These splits would be revealed if the terms of Brexit were put to a vote by another referendum or an early general election. In fact, it is the main reason for her reluctance to call one, although it may become unavoidable.
The attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn was part of this political crisis, with the Blairites acting on behalf of the establishment to try and depose Corbyn before a possible general election. They still have nagging doubts that despite Corbyn's mistaken retreats, including campaigning for Remain despite his historical opposition to the EU, in the heightened atmosphere of an election he can be a threat.
However, his position in the EU Referendum was a missed opportunity and meant that the Labour leadership wasn't able to exploit the Tory defeat. It gave the populist right the chance to assume a leading role. Farage now intends to continue this by exploiting the genuine fear of many workers that the establishment is attempting to delay Brexit or even have a second bite of the cherry.
Corbyn now needs to take the initiative but this won't be possible by merely echoing the arguments of the 'soft Brexiteers'. On Sunday's Andrew Marr programme, Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who is seen as a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, argued that access to the single market is the priority for Labour in the Brexit negotiations.
But this is mistaken if it means accepting its neo-liberal rules. Many working-class communities know that - to the cost of industries such as car, steel making and shipbuilding - the capitalist single market doesn't act in the interests of workers but the multi-nationals, who want to protect their profits by manufacturing in the lowest-cost economies.
Labour must break with this consensus and demand a real workers' Brexit. This means a programme based on repudiating the anti-worker posted directives and privatisation rules that oppose nationalisation of companies and industries, demanding a minimum wage of £10 an hour with no age exemptions and enshrining rights to trade union rights, including to collective bargaining.
It should also not be confined to this country but on these policies reach out to the working-class across Europe who are suffering from the EU's austerity offensive.
This would illuminate the class character of the EU and differentiate Corbyn's Labour from the pro-market opponents inside and outside his party. It would also be a weapon in exposing the pro-capitalist reality of Farage in the eyes of pro-leave workers and lay the way for real workers unity to defeat the anti-immigrant right-wing populism of Ukip. This is the basis to fight for a government that can challenge austerity capitalism in the UK and throughout Europe.
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