In the US confusion reigns about Brexit. Many progressives assume that because the odious Trump has stated he favors Brexit and is friendly to Boris Johnson, Brexit must reactionary. Such reasoning is a failure to see Brexit in class terms. Brexit would weaken the EU, the key supranational instrument of European finance capital. For Britain to leave the EU would be a giant democratic advance, as is argued below, and as British and Irish Communists have consistently argued. — The Editors
August 5, 2019
Socialist Voice, Dublin
The crisis within the British ruling class continues to deepen.
While Boris Johnson has been elected leader of the British Conservative Party, thereby becoming prime minister of Britain, the deep crisis thrown up by Brexit continues to challenge the British ruling class. While Johnson may appear to be a bumbling clown and prone to putting his two feet in his mouth, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate him and his government.
Though he has said that Britain will leave the European Union by 31 October, only time will tell; but he has put together a formidable cabinet that has all the hallmarks of an election battle machine.
Barely voted into the job, Johnson has put forward a raft of proposals, ranging from increased spending on the health service and education to more police on the ground, attempting to push Brexit into the background. He presents himself and his government as a new start, capable of rebuilding the “one nation” Tory vision that these dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries like to present themselves as, a vision only the gullible would fall for again and again.
The British are attempting to put maximum pressure on the EU to show movement and to create a pretence that they have fundamentally changed Theresa May’s deal and have the “Irish backstop” removed. This, they hope, can give them enough wriggle room to secure what they need. They are attempting to present the Irish government as the blockers of progress—to the delight of unionism—making them a scapegoat.
But the reality is that the ruling elite of the EU member-states are deeply worried about Brexit and its consequences for the EU itself. They see it as the string that could unravel the whole EU project. They will do whatever it takes to undermine Brexit; and the Irish government may well become the fall guys.
The dominant sectors of British monopoly capitalism do not want to leave the European Union. It is not in their interest to do so: their interests lie in remaining members. Brexit, from their point of view, was a mistake of monumental proportions. They have spent the last three years trying to reverse that decision completely, and failing this the May agreement was the next best thing, to remain within the single market and customs union.
Johnson’s cabinet, while it may have more women and more minorities in it, is a highly ideological right-wing government. But it is doubtful if there will be any new controversial privatisations or war follies until after a general election.
The British border in Ireland is merely a foil between the British state and the EU to secure both their interests. The so-called “Irish backstop,” which in effect is a British backstop, was the means to an end, to make sure Britain remained within the single market and the customs union.
As the CPI pointed out from the beginning, the British ruling class were trying to secure a “special relationship” with the EU. The question was how to bring that about; and the British border in Ireland provided the means to achieve that goal.
Neither of these imperial blocs cares anything about the Irish people or the democratic demand for the establishment of a sovereign, united all-Ireland state. The nonsense talked about the dangers to the Belfast Agreement is trotted out daily, without anyone ever explaining what these dangers are. Democratic opinion in Ireland must make it clear that any future border between the British state and the European Union must be down the Irish Sea, not across Ireland, pending all the people of Ireland leaving the EU.
The real danger from the viewpoint of the parasitic Irish ruling class is that partition may well be undermined. It is obvious since the beginning of the Brexit crisis in Britain that the Irish elite have little influence within the EU, while the DUP hangs on to the soiled shirt-tails of the British Tories in the vain hope of protecting the “Union.” But, like all subservient forces, they will come to realise that they are mere useful fools, to be discarded at the earliest opportunity, as soon as they have fulfilled what the British require of them.
Boris Johnson’s priority will be to unite the Conservative Party as the party of the ruling class and its political voice. The much-heralded “middle ground” hoped for by the mass media and the ruling class has proved to be unstable and not strong enough to promote ruling-class interests. The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the motley crew of defector MPs from both the Conservative and Labour Parties are not worth their headed paper.
The ruling elite have two strategic goals: firstly, to prevent a full Brexit, and secondly, to prevent the election of a Labour government led by Corbyn. Time will tell which will come first; most probably they are interdependent.
So far, Corbyn, while having a weak hand with regard to the number of MPs openly hostile to him, has played that hand badly. What history and experience have shown workers where social democracy has been the dominant force—as with the Irish Labour Party—is that there is no depth to which they will not go to show how loyal and faithful they are to the interests of imperialism. Between now and the next election there will be new hidden depths to which the Parliamentary Labour Party will sink to show that loyalty.
The British Conservatives will be hoping to exploit once again the growing feeling of betrayal felt by millions of Labour voters and supporters who voted to leave, using that alienation in its strategy to kill off a Corbyn government. The English Tories also need to win back voters from the Brexit Party. Their strategy is to give Johnson more room in the House Commons to push through a possible reheated version of the May deal.
Corbyn gave millions of working people hope that they had found someone whom they could trust, that the decades of austerity could be brought to an end. But Brexit is proving a crucial test for Corbyn and his team.
The clash of interests of two unions—the British Union and the European Union—may well mark the end of the British Union itself, with Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales now asserting themselves. The politics of Britain are in an increasing state of flux. The old order is finding it increasingly difficult to rule in the old way. What is missing is a clear working-class response, a clear working-class view of where it needs to go.
What life has shown is that radical change can only be brought about and secured by a radicalised people, mobilised to advance their own interests. The realising of that vision can only come about through the British communist movement, which needs all our solidarity at this time.
Eugene McCartan is general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland