Brexit chaos deepens as withdrawal deadline looms

The bourgeois parties cannot agree within and among themselves, and remainers are vying to overturn the referendum altogether.

Proletarian writers

Proletarian writers

For some years now, Proletarian has been covering developments in the Brexit debacle – a debacle with no clear end in sight. Theresa May’s strategy and favoured proposals differ according to which day of the week it is, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has never held a clear and consistent position.

The furore that continues amongst the ruling class is never-ending. Tony Blair continues to pitch in, and the liberal media continue to propagandise for the overturning of Brexit.

Attacks on the Brexiteers

The leave campaign receiving fines for ‘cheating’ has only increased the calls from the pro-remain bourgeois majority that the result should be overturned. Leave.EU was fined £70,000 for breaches of electoral law during the referendum period for spending 10 percent over the statutory limit, and for incomplete spending and transactions returns.

While the Electoral Commission found the campaign guilty of spending £7,380 more than permitted, this is actually a relatively minor side issue, which even Tony Blair has said did not impact the referendum result in anyway.

The attack over technicalities continues, and the campaign has also been found guilty of not supplying correct invoices for a number of its payments.

“Bob Posner, the commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel, described the breaches as “serious offences” and said it was disappointing that a key player in the referendum campaign had broken the rules. He also suggested the fine would have been bigger but for a cap on the amount the commission can levy.

“Posner said: ‘The rules we enforce were put in place by parliament to ensure transparency and public confidence in our democratic processes. It is therefore disappointing that Leave.EU, a key player in the EU referendum, was unable to abide by these rules.

“’Leave.EU exceeded its spending limit and failed to declare its funding and its spending correctly. These are serious offences. The level of fine we have imposed has been constrained by the cap on the commission’s fines.’” (Leave. EU fined £70,000 over breaches of electoral law by Matthew Weaver and Jim Waterson, The Guardian, 11 May 2018)

Leave.EU’s Arron Banks defended his campaign before attacking the Electoral Commission as a “Blairite swamp”, packed with people who had not made it to the House of Lords.

Campaign manager Liz Bilney remains under investigation for the suspicion she “knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Leave.EU referendum spending return”. (The Guardian, ibid)

Attempts to overturn the referendum

Divisions among the ruling class over Brexit continue to be clear for all to see: the liberal bourgeoisie continues to pursue its anti-people, anti-Brexit agenda and remains committed to overturning the referendum result. This has been particularly evident in newspapers such as the Guardian and Observer, which have been desperately pursuing every possible avenue for overturning the vote.

Their latest line of attack has been to jump on what is essentially a student petition: “Student organisations representing almost 1 million young people studying at UK universities and colleges are today joining forces to demand a referendum on any final Brexit deal, amid growing fears that leaving the EU will have a disastrous effect on their future prospects.

“Predicting a young people’s revolt over the coming months, student unions – representing 980,000 students at 60 of the country’s leading universities and colleges – are writing to MPs in their areas this weekend, calling on them to back a ‘people’s vote’ before a final Brexit deal can be implemented.

“Student leaders said that they were planning action that would dwarf protests held in 2010 against the coalition government’s plans for student fees, and that they would not rest until they had been granted a say on their futures. They argue in the letter to MPs that there are large numbers of young people – estimated at 1.4 million – who were too young to vote in the June 2016 EU referendum but who are now eligible to do so, and that this group deserves a say.” (One million students join calls for vote on Brexit deal by Toby Helm, The Guardian, 12 May 2018)

If a second vote on the referendum takes place and Britain does vote on the final deal, it is worth remembering that university students are not the only young people who were too young to vote in the referendum. For every student there are many more disenfranchised working-class teenagers. If these young people could be mobilised to defend their class interests, the pro-Brexit vote would only grow.

Liberal media are keen to spin this petition as a large-scale student revolt. But really it represents nothing more than the student union talk of student ‘leaders’ who are here today and gone tomorrow. While students and the bourgeois press are publishing figures of 1 million anti-Brexit students, the reality is that the petition is most likely to be representative only of the 120 or so ‘representatives’ who have put it together.

Insisting that promises made by the pro-Brexit groups during the campaign have not been kept and that only now, almost two years on from the narrow leave vote, are most people beginning to understand what life outside the EU will look like, the petition’s authors state: “Because of all this, we call on our elected leaders to deliver on a people’s vote on the Brexit deal so that young people can once and for all have a say on their futures.”

Among the university unions that have signed up are those representing students at Birmingham, Durham, Cambridge, Swansea, Leeds Beckett, Lancaster, St Andrews, Liverpool John Moore’s and Westminster. The joint letter and signatories were organised by the campaign group For our Future’s Sake (FFS).

Amatey Doku, deputy president of the National Union of Students, said: “When over 120 elected student officers, representing nearly a million young people, call for something with one clear voice, they need to be listened to. Students and young people overwhelmingly voted remain and cannot see how the government can deliver a Brexit deal that works for them. As an elected representative body of 600 student unions, NUS is calling for a people’s vote on the Brexit deal.” (The Guardian, ibid)

Student officers often win their elections simply by being willing to put their name forward. Any class-conscious working-class person who has attended university cannot help but notice how often officers are elected and virtually no-one cared enough even to vote. If they were held to the same standards regarding turnout that unions must adhere to, for example the 50 percent turnout necessary to strike, these officers would disappear in an instant.

The students and their media champions would seem to be pursuing the Labour party rather than the government itself. They clearly feel there is more to be gained in putting pressure on Corbyn’s Labour – hardly surprising given his weak leadership, both in general and over Brexit in particular. Labour has flipped-flopped repeatedly – to the extent that a party lacking in any clear policy can flip-flop.

That his ultra-revolutionary Trotskyite hangers-on are now being held up as the potential anti-Brexit saviours will not surprise readers of Proletarian. Trotskyites lining up with the liberal bourgeoisie against the working class is hardly a new phenomenon.

“Michael Chessum, the former national treasurer of Momentum who is now national organiser of the left-wing anti-Brexit campaign group Another Europe is Possible, told the Observer: ‘The vast majority of Labour members – and the vast majority of Jeremy supporters – backed remain in the referendum and haven’t changed their minds.’

“Chessum went on to say that it was wrong for Corbyn supporters to argue that remaining a member of the EU would prevent the party implementing radical left-wing policies like renationalisation. ‘The idea that EU rules will prevent us from enacting a radical programme in government is a fiction. There is nothing in our 2017 manifesto that could not be done, or is not already being done, within the EU – and a Corbyn government could lead the charge against state aid rules and liberalisation in the medium term.

“‘On the other hand, if we get into government to find a crashed economy, a bonfire of rights and regulations, and a series of trade deals which bind us to the American model, we’ll really struggle to fulfil our promises.’ He said he expected ‘a big push’ at the Labour conference for a referendum on the final deal.” (The Guardian, ibid)

Government and opposition chaos

These elements can only be encouraged by the divisions within the Conservative Party (and, therefore, the government), which are mirrored, however, by those in Labour. Both parties continue to tear themselves apart over Brexit, and this chaos of the bourgeoisie can only be welcomed by class-conscious workers.

The government finds itself at a roadblock. May’s proposals have gone back and forth with no tangible progress made. She has held crunch talks with many backbench Tory MPs as she attempts to gain support for her plan – to the extent that a clear plan really exists.

May’s favoured ‘customs partnership’ would also be the favoured option of the ruling class, and the proposals would no doubt be supported and pushed by the media if it weren’t for the small minority within the ruling class who really do want Brexit to go ahead. They do not want watered-down versions that keep Britain in the EU in all but name. Sometimes, the working class finds itself with the unlikeliest of allies!

“The cabinet subcommittee on Brexit will reconvene on Tuesday [15 May] after breaking into groups to develop Ms May’s two options – a ‘customs partnership’, with closer EU customs ties to avoid an Irish hard border, or ‘maximum facilitation’ (‘max fac’), with looser customs ties and a harder border.

“With the last gathering ending with the cabinet split on which to opt for, one source close to the group said: ‘There will be more fudge I expect, and more kicking into the long grass.’

“After some briefings suggesting in recent days that the prime minister is now leaning towards the Brexiteer favoured ‘max fac’ option, another cabinet source went on: ‘Nothing is decided yet. Everything is still on the table.’ …

“There is also deadlock in parliament, where what little progress has been made on three pieces of Brexit legislation has stalled, because the government is unsure it can win votes related to the customs union.

“This stalemate in London comes as talks in Brussels have also ground to halt, with EU ministers reporting “no significant progress” on any of the main withdrawal issues since March, including the Irish border and related customs matters …

“The ‘customs partnership’ plan would see Britain collecting tariffs on the EU’s behalf at ports and airports, passing on a share of the money to Brussels – then if the UK sets different tariffs from the EU, traders would then claim refunds from HMRC for goods that stay in Britain.

“Olly Robbins, Ms May’s Europe adviser, regards the partnership as a means of avoiding a hard border in Ireland, while keeping the UK out of the European customs union. Close aides of Ms May have also called it ‘intellectually perfect’.

“But Downing Street has privately been warned that the customs partnership proposal could collapse the government, with the Brexit-backing European Research Group (a Eurosceptic thinktank) having organised a critical report backed by 60 MPs.

“The group’s chairman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has called the proposal ‘cretinous’ and ‘deeply unsatisfactory’, and argued that it would ‘not get us out of the European Union, which is what people voted for’.

“The other option, a ‘streamlined arrangement’, is viewed more favourably by Brexiteers in both the cabinet and on the back benches.

“It is known as … ‘max fac’, and would see the UK staying outside any customs union, but with some controls at the border between the north of Ireland and the Irish republic.

“Backers say a ‘trusted trader’ scheme and remote monitoring of the border would limit physical infrastructure.

“But it would still essentially mean a hard border on the island of Ireland. Critics claim this would break the Good Friday Agreement, risking peace in northern Ireland.” (May’s Brexit meeting to end in ‘long grass’ and ‘fudge’ amid standoff over customs, cabinet sources say by Joe Watts, Independent, 14 May 2018)

On the other hand, were May to agree to a customs union, she would alienate the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on whose parliamentary votes the Tories depend to remain in office …

The sheer impossibility of the situation should long ago have led to the downfall of the government. The problem is that whatever the change of bourgeois government, the dilemma remains, and most bourgeois opinion is terrified of a Corbyn-led Labour government, as there is no guarantee that it can be dissuaded from implementing at least some measures inimical to imperialist interests, even though it is a better bet than the Tories for finding a means of escaping the Brexit vote.

The chaos looks set to continue, and will only be made worse by the deepening economic crisis, which is bound to take a further lurch downwards before long.

Meanwhile, progressive people must use every opportunity presented by warring in the ranks of the bourgeoisie to help workers see the true nature of the bourgeois state and the capitalist system, and to draw them into the struggle for socialism, which offers the only real solution to the problems of unemployment, insecurity, lack of social provision, racism and war.