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.