As we go to press on 8 December, it seems to hang in the balance whether the Tories will conclude a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. The Tory leadership is cultivating an image of being not too bothered either way.
We will have either “No Deal” (which means a lot of short-term disruption, followed by a scramble to get some sketchy deal in the next years) or a bodged Brexit deal. The bodged last-minute Tory deal will leave many issues to be resolved, but will include the closing of borders to free movement from Europe and probably license systematic reduction over time of social provision and rights in Britain below EU standards.
Either way we face further economic and social devastation, and in the midst of the pandemic.
All year, we have lived in a strange political atmosphere, with the country moving steadily towards disaster — but no large force willing to raise the alarm. Now, in a way, the contradiction is heightened. Every day brings multiple reports confirming that the chaos and regression after 31 December will be grim indeed:
“Builders run short of supplies as port holdups raise Brexit concerns… Toyota will not invest in electric cars till 2034… UK firms unclear about Brexit rules with one month to go… UK races to deport asylum seekers ahead of Brexit... Fears UK will not cope with Brexit and Covid vaccine rollout...”
Yet the political temperature remains remarkably low.
Central to this problem is surely the role played by the Labour Party, which has gone out of its way not to oppose the Tories on Brexit. Having first limited its message to “Get a deal done”, Starmer’s leadership is now leaning towards supporting whatever deal the Tories cook up with the EU leaders, if they do.
The media reports a split in the Shadow Cabinet and major unrest in the Labour Party establishment. For sure Starmer’s position will be disliked by large numbers of party members.
Labour movement activists should push for Labour at least to abstain in Parliament. Please sign and share the statement from Labour for a Socialist Europe here.
The problem is wider than one parliamentary vote. To take advantage of the disarray the Tories face next year, or certainly to do so in the name of any sort of even vaguely radical agenda, Labour must explain and indict what their Brexit policy and their wider policy represent.
There is no sign of that. Starmer’s leadership do not want to promote left-wing policies, or distinguish themselves too much from even this hard-right Tory government. Their nervousness and weakness is still more pronounced when it comes to issues connected to nationalism and state power — military spending, “overseas operations”, “spycops”… and Brexit.
The problem is wider still. Paralysed by unwillingness to criticise Brexit, as well as a more general lack of fight, our trade unions are largely tailing Starmer. The big trade union Unite is actively promoting support for a Tory Brexit deal.
Most of the Labour left, even sections of it that previously opposed Brexit, is silent.
To prepare for an effective fight after new year, when the Tories and the bosses try to use the chaos to force even further sacrifices on the working class, requires disrupting the labour movement’s silence and quiescence. We need to reorganise, revive and promote the class-struggle, internationalist left in Labour and the unions.
Brexit is now happening — and it will be just as bad as we warned. The starting point is to say that clearly.