On Saturday 6 April, I sat in a room full of activists from the giant union Unite, and heard the union’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner talking about Brexit. He was clear on one thing: a no deal Brexit on WTO terms would be a disaster for jobs in manufacturing. Turner emphasised the chaos that no-deal would cause to the automotive sector, which is dependent upon frictionless trade across Europe.
No one in the room seemed to disagree. Surprising. Quite a few of them were supporters of the Morning Star, which that same day carried a centre-page article by Alex Gordon arguing that a “managed no-deal Brexit on WTO terms” is entirely to be desired from a socialist point of view.
The Morning Star has been promoting no deal in its editorials for some time. The paper, for all its pretensions to be the voice of the broad labour and trade union movement, is in reality controlled by the Communist Party of Britain, who have long favoured a no-deal/WTO scenario.
An article in the Morning Star of April 3 quoted CPB general secretary Rob Griffiths denouncing MPs for considering the customs union option:
“These MPs show utter contempt for the EU referendum result — the biggest democratic vote in our history — and make a mockery of their past pledges to ‘honour’ the decision made by a clear majority of voters.
“Tragically, many of these would-be saboteurs are Labour MPs who put their loyalty to the EU above any loyalty to democracy, popular sovereignty and the Labour Party.
“Many are opposed to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and have no concern that by painting Labour as an anti-Brexit party they are jeopardising the prospects of a left-led Labour government. Some openly support the possibility of an all-party ‘national government.’ “The priority now must be to allow Britain to exit the EU on April 12 on World Trade Organisation terms and secure an early general election and a Labour victory.”
It is puzzling that Brexiteers of left and right, whose campaign is all about “taking back control”, seem so keen on the WTO option.
Forsaking one largely unaccountable capitalist bureaucracy in Brussels for a more secretive one housed in Geneva seems perverse. WTO members are at the mercy of its “dispute-settlement” regime, which allows other countries to enforce penalties. Its rules, just as much as the EU’s single market rules, restrict certain forms of undercutting and state intervention. And its enforcement and dispute settlement panels (unlike the ECJ) are entirely secret.
Britain is already a member of the WTO, but through the EU. To become a fully independent member, Britain needs to have its own schedules (WTO-speak for the lists of tariffs and quotas that it would apply to other countries’ products). Britain will have to produce schedules for each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered by WTO and get them all agreed by the 163 WTO states, some of which have already raised objections.
Under WTO rules, after Brexit cars will be taxed at 10% when they cross the UK-EU border and agricultural tariffs will be more than 35% for dairy products. Jeremy Corbyn and his team are, to be frank, all over the place on Brexit, but if they have one consistent policy it is to avoid no-deal. Strange then, that the paper that claims to be ultra-loyal to Corbyn in fact opposes his only clear-cut policy. Stranger still that a union like Unite, with hundreds of thousands of members in the manufacturing sector whose jobs will be put at risk by no-deal, still subsidises the Morning Star.
Apart from the ERG and its associated “hard Brexit” outfits like Economists for Brexit, the CPB and Morning Star are just about the only people in Britain who positively favour no-deal and WTO terms. Economists for Brexit are a bit more honest. Their leading light, Professor Patrick Minford told the Sun just before the 2016 referendum:
“Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us”.