39 Labour MPs rebel on Tory Brexit deal

Submitted by martin on 5 January, 2021 - 6:47 Author: Martin Thomas
Brexit is disaster capitalism

In the Parliamentary vote on the Tories' Brexit deal, 30 December 2020, 39 Labour MPs (including two for now excluded from the Labour whip) defied Labour leader Keir Starmer's whip to vote for the deal.

Three Labour front-benchers resigned in protest at Starmer's line.

The Labour rebels abstained, all but one who voted against the deal (Bell Ribeiro-Addy). Our understanding is that the rebels had decided in advance on a collective position of abstaining to distance themselves from a possible right-wing Tory vote against the deal and for "no deal". In fact all the Tory right-wingers backed the deal.

In the days and hours before the vote, hundreds of Labour activists had signed a statement protesting at the plan for Labour to back the Tories' Brexit deal.

The statement had been put together by Labour for a Socialist Europe and Another Europe is Possible. It is reported on Labour List and can be viewed here.

UK and EU officials had announced a Brexit deal on Thursday 24 December.

The document, some 2,000 pages, has been vetted by every EU government. It came into operation "provisionally" on 1 January 2021 and is to be ratified by the European Parliament later in January.

As George Parker of the Financial Times commented when the deal was done, it's "the first trade deal in history where barriers go up, not down". Whatever the detail, though, Parker reckoned it would be taken as "great news for business after months of uncertainty". Almost anything better than "no deal".

The labour movement should not wearily accept a deal way short of meeting the "tests" we have proposed, or accept that the only choice was this Tory deal or "no deal".

As the Blairite Andrew Adonis, of all people, said, "Johnson [was] spinning negotiations out until the last minute in order to dodge scrutiny".

The Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had called on 21 December for a delay to Brexit, an extension of the transition period.

Scottish prime minister Nicola Sturgeon made a similar call.

Labour for a Socialist Europe has been campaigning for that extension since March, arguing that proper democratic scrutiny of a Brexit deal would be impossible mid-pandemic.

With the new variant of the virus, the case became even clearer.

Finalising a Brexit deal in late December was like carrying out a delicate medical operation while navigating a narrow and slippery bridge, in the dark and in a storm.

Labour leader Keir Starmer did not support Khan's 21 December call. In fact, he has specifically rejected it. "I say to the Prime Minister, get on and deliver the deal that you promised... this week, today, tomorrow..." And after he went for whipping Labour MPs to vote for the Tory deal.

Perhaps Starmer wants to placate or appeal to people exasperated by the Tories' multiple goings-to-the-brink, deadlines, and swerves over the last four and a half years. It makes as little sense as telling someone impatient about a delayed medical operation (and one which you yourself think certain to be damaging rather than helpful, even in the best version) that they should support it being done straight off, by an amateur surgeon without good supervision, in a storm, in the dark, on dangerous terrain.

The Brexiters failed to negotiate a deal over four and a half years, until the very last minute, because it is impossible to get what they want - full license to cut social and environmental standards below EU levels, and raise barriers high against people moving between here and the EU, together with smooth trade flows. They went to the brink in negotiations again and again in order to squeeze out the nearest approximation to their impossible demands.

The EU has conceded much, giving the Tories license to cut some standards with only a proviso that if they do it too much then tariffs may be put on British exports.

Labour was wrong to back a deal on that basis. It was wrong to allow the Tories to try to blackmail Labour by saying "approve this crap deal, because otherwise it's no deal! No time to consider alternatives!" Even if we couldn't actually stop the Tory deal in late December, we could raise a voice against it.

By December, a clear majority - 49%-39% on an average of polls - thought that Brexit was a mistake. Polls said that in a new vote, "stay out" and "apply to rejoin the EU" would be neck-and-neck.

Comments

Submitted by martin on Thu, 31/12/2020 - 15:32

The bad effects of the Tory Brexit deal will be felt bit-by-bit for years to come. It will become harder to travel to the rest of Europe, let alone to go and work or study or retire there. It will be harder for the EU27 migrants who have contributed so much in Britain, especially in the NHS and in social care, to come here or sometimes even to stay here.

It will be harder for students from Britain to do the study-time in Europe they could previously do with the Erasmus scheme, and harder for students from the EU27 to do study-time in Britain.

The Tories have secured a deal which will let them drop social and environmental standards below EU levels, with only the risk of tariff retaliation if they fall too far below.

Much additional bureaucracy will be needed to construct UK systems of checking and regulation to replace participation in EU systems.

Brexit happened on 1 January 2021. But the issue is not over and done with. Not at all.

How much free movement for people can we regain? How far will Britain diverge from EU standards? Just how high will the barriers be between Britain and the EU? Will Scotland secede, so that we have an EU-Britain land border stretching 150 km which in normal times tens of thousands of people cross each day for work, shopping, and visiting? Or, on the contrary, can we win re-entry into some EU schemes? Norway, Serbia, and North Macedonia are in Erasmus though not in the EU.

Keir Starmer's statement that Europe may not even be an issue in the Labour manifesto for 2024 makes no sense.

There are battles to wage straight away on freedom of movement. Labour has standing policy from its 2019 conference to defend the old freedom of movement with EU27 countries, now abolished by Tory law, and to extend it.

The lobby group Best for Britain has produced a list of ten priorities for reducing EU-UK borders even after 1 January 2021:

• Secure data adequacy and deepen provisions on digital trade
• Establish regulatory dialogues, starting with financial services, as part of financial services equivalence
• Develop new trade rules for modern challenges, such as climate change, animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance
• Maintain membership of European standardisation bodies
• Reach Mutual Recognition Agreements to address testing of industrial goods, and veterinary equivalence for food products
• Explore membership of major European regulatory bodies on issues such as aircraft safety (EASA)
• Expand cumulation of rules of origin for preferential tariffs either with Japan or PEM (Pan-Euro-Mediterranean) countries
• Reconsider UK participation in Erasmus
• Re-establish mutual recognition of professional qualifications
• Cooperate in renewing the global trade system

Some of these are of more interest to capitalists than to workers or the labour movement. But anyway we have no interest in business being clogged by trade barriers and multiplied regimes of regulation. Others, like mutual recognition of professional qualifications and Erasmus, are directly important for workers and students.

Those in the labour movement who have supported Brexit need to rethink. They have got what they wanted. For all their talk of "left Brexit", they had no alternative scheme for relations with the EU to propose, unless it was the Morning Star's preference for "no deal", which would bring all the bad results of the Tory deal, plus more, plus short-term disruption.

And nothing is more "left" or "social" now we have Brexit! On the contrary!

The Lexiters' main argument tended to be that a Brexited UK could give more state aid to industry. But the EU's rules against state aid are targeted most against countries doing beggar-your-neighbour tax breaks and subsidies to attract investors, as US states do. Socialists are not for that sort of state aid to bosses. Marxists in France (where state aid to bosses is much higher than in the UK) have campaigned against that state aid.

The EU does have rules inhibiting nationalisations. But those rules didn't stop many banks being nationalised across the EU in 2008-9. They haven't stopped the Tories effectively renationalising the Train Operating Companies this year (the franchisees are now effectively just managers on a contract). The real obstacles to sweeping and radical public-ownership measures are mostly within Britain, in British law and British state institutions, rather than in the EU.

Fundamentally we are for the UK rejoining the EU. We are for bringing down again the new barriers raised between countries.

Work for that policy will be uphill for a while. Polls suggest that most people, while thinking Brexit a mistake, see no choice now but to "get it done". The bad effects of Brexit will mostly show up over the years, rather than in big new truck queues in January 2021.

In the meantime, however, there is scope for campaigning on many detailed issues of resisting and working to reduce the new barriers.

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