Boris Johnson, according to the Financial Times on 7 September, is planning legislation (to be published 9 September) which will contradict the Withdrawal Agreement already signed with the European Union on state aid to industrial bosses and on trade checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.
And Johnson said on 6 September that if he doesn’t get an outline deal on free trade post-Brexit with the EU by 15 October, then he will “move on”. In other words, to a “no-deal” Brexit.
We can’t judge how much Johnson is bluffing to try to spook the EU into last-minute concessions, and how much he positively wants “no deal”.
At the very least, there’s a serious risk of “no deal”. That is an outcome which Parliament voted to block in 2019. Which almost all shades of opinion among Labour MPs and trade unions condemn. And which a big majority in the general population oppose.
Labour has said nothing much about this, beyond shadow Northern Ireland minister Louise Haigh saying that the flouting of the Withdrawal Agreement would be “viewed dimly by future trading partners”.
By most, probably, but not by Donald Trump’s USA, which would welcome the UK cutting its other trade options and giving itself little choice except to do a trade deal with the USA on US terms.
Why are the Tories even considering “no deal” disruption as an option?
Negatively, because it looks possible (though still difficult) for them to hide the disruption of “no deal” under the disruption of the pandemic. And, positively, because for them there are advantages to doing Brexit in a chaotic, off-balanced, improvised way.
That way makes it easier to use Brexit as a lever for social regression and worker-bashing, via has been called “Disaster Capitalism”, where plunderers pick up on chaos in order to slam through their plans.
“Disaster capitalism” could clear the way for the Tories to cut or abolish the mild protections which workers in Britain have acquired through EU standards, on working hours, on agency work, on protections when work is contracted-out or switched to a different contractor, and on redundancy payments.
The Tories have already published an Immigration Bill, which starts its Committee Stage in the House of Lords on 7 September. It is written to license the government to write regulations as it pleases. It will stop free movement, go with an even more punitive attitude to asylum-seekers, and make more workers’ status dependent on the say-so of employers.
“No deal” is not what it says on the can. No one, not even Tory free-market ultras, believes that Britain can “build a wall” in the Channel and dispense with negotiations with other countries.
“No deal” means mainly that the deal-making will be helter-skelter, ad hoc, and tilted towards closer ties with Trump’s USA. It will contain everything bad about the EU, but none of what is good: the lowering of borders, the restraint on race-to-the-bottom competition between states, the limited levelling-up, the scope for political scrutiny of the rules: in general, the creation of a broader terrain for cross-border working-class action.
A US trade deal, as the alternative axis for the way Britain inserts itself into the world economy, will mean many more rules dismantling safety protections, opening out areas to international capitalist investors, and giving them legally-enforceable rights against future government moves to regulate them. It will mean that even if Biden wins in November, and with double force if Trump wins.
What is behind Labour’s silence? As in 2019, the “tactic” is to allow a Tory Brexit formula to go through, but to go through with Labour criticising it.
That way, Labour can avoid being seen as “blocking Brexit”, but at the same time be free to criticise the outcome. “Nothing we can do about it now, but that’s not the way we wanted Brexit”.
But any form of Brexit that the Tories push through, and especially a “no deal” Brexit, will be a setback for the working class.
Labour activists should demand that Labour campaign urgently against Brexit, and positively for free movement and for a socialist united Europe.