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Brexit: What could possibly go right?

What a mess.

How about we replace Prime Minister May with someone who believes in Brexit? Well, yes, let’s not mention that, for two years, the most ardent Brexiteers, Davies, Fox, Johnson, Gove, Raab have driven the exercise, only to achieve close to nothing. Then resigned. Ostensibly, reasons for resignations or shuffles to new stations on their journey to superpowerdom, were due to the Chequers Proposal, constructed precisely as a result of miserable failure to come to terms with the enormity of a task they had so lightly assumed to be easy peasy, not to mention financially beneficial, to the point, they claimed, that even a ‘no deal’ would be to the benefit of us all. What fools.

It transpires that the task is well nigh impossible; forty plus years of social and economic integration, embracing a plethora of the most diverse and complex deals ranging from seed management through to space exploration, is proving a tad difficult to unravel, let alone resolve, so much so that the ‘no deal’ extremists are thinking that perhaps they are the best shot after all. An EU minister recently described Britain’s challenge as trying to remove one egg from an omelette. It’s close to impossible. 

The primary interest of capital in all this, is business – tariffs, regulations, agreements, border controls and customs, hardly a mention of visas, health benefits, holidays, pensions, working hours and human rights. These latter haven’t yet been the subject of negotiations, so intractable are the business related matters. Hmm. Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.

It started when then Prime Minister Cameron thought he could resolve a painful fight in the Tory party by having a referendum, dealing a body blow en route to lefty Labour EU oppositionists, whilst shutting down, at last, the Tory nationalist right wing, that had been snapping at the party heels since Thatcher.

A bit of a miscalculation there: no one saw that result coming.

For Labour’s part, their PLP majority saw fit to devote their complacent referendum campaign time to undermining Corbyn. Meanwhile, he proved, despite the promoted historical view, to be the most active remain campaigner, with a line that, in hindsight, may still be our saviour. ‘I give the EU 7 out of 10; let’s remain and  see what we can do about it.’; this despite him being an old-style Bennite leaver – he took the most coherent pro-remain position of all. But no-one, neither the media nor the party, was listening. 

Chequers endeavoured to resolve the turmoil in the Tory Party, to find a formula that might possibly work and keep everyone on board. It was a valiant party effort by May, wrapped in sops to the DUP and hence the party right wing, but it failed immediately.

Plan B, constructed yet again to keep the Tory Party together, failed too.

Latterly, the ‘People’s Vote’, seeking a second referendum (on a question still unresolved – ‘in-out’ again, or ‘the deal’), is led by forces more interested in scoring points against Corbyn, not dissimilar to the Tories, more concerned with internal party issues than the interests of the populace.

Corbyn, keeping ‘all options open’, is under intense pressure to declare his hand. That may well serve the cause of Remain but, en route to the preferred general election, could alienate a crucial chunk of voters. Labour’s voting majority is far from secure, not least thanks to an establishment and its media that will do almost anything to keep him from power. The next government, if it is to be Labour led, is certain to be a coalition with SNP, Greens and (oh no, absolute last resort!) Liberals.

What counts are the ingredients in the ‘7 out of the 10’ that are worth defending. In Labour’s words, the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union; rights and protections; prevent a race to the bottom. And deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

I’d be adding a few myself – Human Rights, anti-nuclear, anti-war and Climate Change progress being high on my agenda. These issues are vital to either exit or remain. They are deal-breakers. Not subjective ‘for or against Europe’ or ‘for or against referendums’ or ‘for or against Tory anything’. (OK, the last one is not subjective.) We seek to hold on to rights and benefits that mean a lot to us. We should start spelling them out in detail – something complacency caused us to understate during the referendum. 

And the other side of the coin? The 3 out of 10?

The top target – austerity and neo-liberal economics are clearly in our firing line with the dismantling of public services and jobs in Greece an object lesson in what not to do. The peace agenda and arms sales merit a complete review, not least as the horrors of war, nurtured by the west’s arms and oil industry economics, are getting closer and closer to home. Then there’s Human Rights and Climate Change, migration and refugees, security and crime, including the obscene, self-serving finances of corporate capital.

A key ‘3 out of 10’ agreement, with substantial public resonance, will be ‘no impediments to the nationalisation of the rail system or to freedom from privatisation of our public services, including welfare, transport and National Health’.

The thing about Labour’s Six Tests is that there is little indication that they can ever be met. It is all just too messy. That, for me, is why we will stay. We know we will be damned if we go, losing many rights and benefits and handing our economy to the free-marketeers (and the extreme nationalist right). And we are damned if we stay in the present EU setup. [This is, of course, the SWP dilemma.]

We can’t leave because of the loss of rights and the clear right wing leadership awaiting us; the social cost, let alone the economic one, is just too high.

The argument holds either way. There are issues, policies, laws, regulations and social provisions we cannot do without. We cannot leave Europe without them being satisfied. I’m talking you and me here: our jobs, pensions, holidays, rights, then visas, customs controls, transport concessions, health agreements, security issues, student programme funding, European study visits, anti-poverty funding, exchange controls, the things you take for granted when you visit Europe. (Yes I’m a middle class Europhile; I truly love Europe, its cities, its people, its cultures.) But make no (class) mistake here. Europe is our closest neighbour and access and integration will continue to expand – many of us, not just the better off middle classes, love these holidays, the social interaction, witnessing of their social and cultural life, the weather, the markets, their provisions for children and young people. [Oh stop it, Ed.] Europe loves us too.       

OK, this is a manageable package – maintain the benefits, negotiate on the improvements. We can run with this.

Oops. There’s a catch; why March 29th is critical. If we are out, then there is no EU election in June. Mind you, so little will have been resolved. If we are not out by then, how do you handle the EU election?  Can you imagine what that election will be like? It will be a ‘bonfire of the vanities’, giving rise to another wave of media led ‘betrayal’ and right wing platforms whichever way we go, unleashing Farage again (they are starting to give him time already), regenerating the virtually obsolete UKIP, now proving fertile ground for the fascists (Robinson appointed as a policy advisor!), themselves rejuvenated by Brexit xenophobia, and the near self-destructed Tory right being given yet another chance. (Blair should have buried them two decades ago.)

The prospect is not nice and there is no obvious answer. My best shot is that the establishment has an amazing capacity to break its own rules and will defer the Article 50 date (no problem) or shuffle March 29th. The EU election in Britain is avoided (or deferred) until our future is resolved by a Labour government that puts our, our personal, day-to-day, social and economic priorities to the forefront, satisfying the six tests and getting results on lessening EU interference in our ability to promote socialist alternatives to austerity and public services. We may or may not have to vote on that deal; we can consider that down the line.

By then, it won’t matter whether we are in or out as the things that matter to you and me will have been resolved to our benefit. If not, we’ve got a helluva fight on our hands. We may have anyway.

Gordon Gibson, November 2018


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