The Brexit transition period ends in less than six weeks, on 31 December. The EU has told its member states’ ambassadors that a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK is close — but warned a No Deal Brexit is still possible “accidentally”, because of the timescale...
A No Deal exit, producing wrenching economic and social dislocation, would or will be terrible. But the Guardian hit the nail on the head when, on the same day as the EU briefing, it quoted economists saying that “the best deal the UK can secure would have counted as ‘one of the hardest of Brexits’ three or four years ago”.
During the 2016 referendum, Nigel Farage implied he would be happy with the UK leaving the EU but staying in the Single Market. Now an ultra-hard Brexit with a minimal trade deal has become the “soft” option, and the Brexit fanatics may well get their wish of No Deal.
We’ve got here because over the last year, since the general election, the Brexiteers have not let up the pressure, whereas much of the anti-Brexit movement has collapsed.
Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership has adopted an even more craven version of the “say nothing, then you’ll offend no one” strategy pursued on this issue by Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the upheaval of the pandemic and majority popular support for a delay to Brexit, Starmer has allowed and in effect helped the Tories push towards a hurried hard Brexit with minimal opposition or even scrutiny.
The broad, liberal anti-Brexit movement did criticise Corbyn — but has let Starmer get on with it and stayed silent. Left-wing Labour anti-Brexit MPs are largely quiet too. The unions have grown quieter and quieter, despite what the coming crash will mean for jobs and living standards.
Left-wing anti-Brexit activists have continued to organise, but with great difficulty, in an atmosphere of confusion and demoralisation.
The weak pressure on the Tories is demonstrated by Rishi Sunak feeling confident to make the nonsense argument that No Deal is nothing to fear because Covid is more of a threat to the economy. In fact the Governor of the Bank of England has just said the exact opposite. But in any case — what?!
We face vast economic destruction, transport chaos, shortages in medicine, food and technologies, and aggressive attempts to make the working class pay for the crisis — if there is a deal. The estimated hit to the economy from leaving the single market with a deal will be about 4%; without one, 6%.
The upheaval will be an opening for the Tories to escalate their assault on working-class rights and living standards and reshape the country’s economy in an even more neoliberal direction.
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy was absolutely right to call for an extension to the transition period, to delay Brexit. The whole labour movement should have called for this earlier in the year.
There is talk that Starmer will have Labour MPs vote for the Tories’ deal, if they get one. That would certainly fit with his strategy of breaking silence periodically to advocate “getting Brexit done”. It would be a disgrace.
Socialists should rally as many labour movement activists and organisations as possible to demand Labour opposes a Tory deal, and demand delay.
We should find a way to hold the Labour and union leaderships to account for their failure to fight the Tories on Brexit (and generally).
We should prepare for battle against every facet of the Tory Brexit agenda, continuing long after 1 January — against deregulation and a race to the bottom, against regressive trade deals, in defence of migrants’ rights and free movement.
After having a real impact in 2018-19, the internationalist left in the Labour Party is subdued and dispersed. It needs rallying, remobilising and expanding.