Little to celebrate in Brexit deal concluded between EU and Britain
The agreement was negotiated between representatives of British and European capitalism; the interests of British and European workers were not on either party’s agenda
Much has been made of the fact that the long-awaited Brexit deal is the first in the “modern era” to erect barriers rather than dismantle them. The sorrowful tone in which this observation is made implies that Britain is shutting the door on progress and openness. For EU diplomats that is logical enough. It is more worrying when socialists raise the same lament.
This “modern era” is the era of neo-liberalism that began in the 1970s with Reagan, Thatcher and the “big bang” that removed regulation of financial markets; in Europe this era saw the evolution of the modern European Union through the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties.
Nothing better illustrates the dominance of liberal ideology across the left than the doublethink that allows people to decry the destruction of industry, the rollback of labour rights, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of democratic accountability that have taken place over the last five decades while championing the institutional developments that have accompanied them.
The left has not, historically, been in favour of “frictionless” markets that equate to unregulated capitalist power.
Socialists should not, therefore, mourn the mere existence of barriers. Nor should they fall for the sleight of hand by which some EU partisans have tried to present the lorry queues in Kent as a consequence of Brexit, when the restrictions were an emergency response to a new strain of Covid-19, and EU member states have repeatedly cracked down on cross-border movement within the bloc since the pandemic began, for obvious reasons.
There is little to celebrate in the details of the agreement that have so far been revealed. This is unsurprising. The agreement was negotiated between representatives of British and European capitalism; the interests of British and European workers were not on either party's agenda.
Indeed, since the referendum was first called, the Brexit question has been framed as a “civil war within capitalism.”
Efforts have been made – by organisations such as Leave, Fight, Transform, for a time by Jeremy Corbyn, as at his Coventry speech in 2018 – to promote a Brexit vision with democratic and anti-monopoly interests at its heart, but it has never gained a wide hearing. When it was sunk within Labour by the People’s Vote operation the future of the entire Corbyn project was sunk with it.
So common binding principles have been agreed on state aid: a barrier to the planned regional development needed if Britain is to meet its climate change commitments, address regional inequalities and build a fairer and more sustainable economy.
Disappointing as this is, such policies are out of reach regardless unless the left is able to recover from the defeat of the Corbyn project and build a powerful movement which puts public ownership and planning back on the agenda.
Likewise, Britain's freedom from rulings of the anti-labour European Court of Justice is welcome in itself, but will do nothing about Britain's draconian restrictions on trade union freedom, the escalating jobs massacre and attacks on working-class incomes. This is a ruling-class offensive that has to be fought.
What has been demonstrated over the last five years is that socialist policies have mass appeal, winning Labour its biggest vote share increase since 1945 in the 2017 election. Several hundred thousand activists have also had a crash course in the unrepresentative nature of British political institutions and the Establishment's far-reaching control of public discourse.
The stark regional, racial and social injustices exposed by coronavirus have made the case for socialist change even stronger.
And departure from the EU does show that a globalisation process along rules written by giant corporations is not unstoppable.
Since 2015 the left has allowed Brexit to divide the working class into two camps, both under capitalist direction. Our departure from the EU must prompt us to build a united labour movement focused on the fight for socialism.