As we write, it’s three days since the huge anti-Brexit protest on 23 March, the biggest demonstration in Britain since the 2003 march against the invasion of Iraq. It is the day after Parliament rebelled against the government (Monday 25th) to mandate, 329 to 302, “indicative” votes on different Brexit formulas. It’s the day before those “indicative” votes are held, on Wednesday 27th. And 17 days before Britain “automatically” crashes out of the EU with “no deal”, unless before 12 April Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Tories with the EU.
The Tory government cannot govern. Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to resign soon. Maybe very soon, in the coming days, to give a new “caretaker” Tory prime minister a better chance of getting a Brexit deal through. To a degree scarcely seen in Britain for centuries, the upper classes are unable to manage affairs in their usual ways. They will get through their crisis — even if only by doing a makeshift series of “deals” after a “no deal” crash-out — unless the labour movement seizes the time. Unless the labour movement proposes a new way.
Yet Jeremy Corbyn, in Parliament on 25 March, proposed only an unlikely search for consensus among “old ways”. “It’s time for this parliament to work together and agree on a Plan B... There is support in this House for a deal based on... a customs union and full single market access...”
There is nothing “Lexit-y” about this Plan B! It’s a soft-Tory formula. In a world which needs lower borders, not higher, Brexit was always a step backwards. We now know that the Brexit leaders cannot find an actual Brexit formula which looks good to a majority even of Brexit supporters. Of the Brexit formulas discussed in Parliament, the least unpopular is the crash-out “no deal” one!
Labour should again take up the fight for a general election. It should commit itself without mumbling to a new public vote with an option to Remain. It should commit itself to a “Remain and Transform” stance in a general election, and in a new public vote.
The job of the active socialists is to organise and mobilise the pro-free movement, pro-low borders constituency in the working class — especially the younger segment of it, still underrepresented on 23 March — to push Labour that way.
Brexit: the bad Plan Bs
The Withdrawal Agreement which the Tory government got with the EU, but can’t get through Parliament, provides for a “transition period” until December 2020. During that “transition period” the UK will remain within EU rules and pay into the EU budget. Under the “backstop” clause in that Agreement the UK commits to keeping Northern Ireland within the EU customs union and the Single Market for goods, unless and until the UK can come up with a new scheme for avoiding a “hard” border within Ireland. The Tory right and the DUP object to the “backstop”, though none of them says they want a “hard” border, and none of them has proposed an alternative scheme to avoid it.
The Withdrawal Agreement comes with a vague “declaration” about relations after 2020: according to the Tories, free movement and remaining in a customs union with the EU, or in the Single Market, are definitely excluded. The “Common Market 2.0” or “Norway Plus” scheme would mean the whole UK staying in the EU customs union and Single Market, and keeping freedom of movement (more or less). In short, it means the UK staying within all EU rules, but losing UK input into the making of those rules. Perhaps because it is a poor deal from both Leave and Remain points of view, it has gained credibility, but on 13 June 2018, it was defeated in the Commons 126 to 327. Labour officially abstained. 75 Labour MPs voted for and 15 against.
The “official” Labour alternative to the Tory formula is to add to it a permanent customs union with the EU and a permanent commitment to match EU provisions on workers’ rights and the environment. That would not include free movement. The Labour leadership talks about “full Single Market access”, and something like that would be necessary to avoid a “hard” border in Ireland; but it also says it is against free movement and actual Single Market membership. It doesn’t explain how “full Single Market access” could be got without full Single Market commitments, which would include free movement. No “Lexit” (“left exit”) formula has been proposed by any Labour MP.