Jan 21, 2019
The following article was translated from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers’ group of that name.
The British Parliament rejected an agreement that the government of Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the representatives of the European Union (EU) that would define the relationship between Great Britain and the European Union after Great Britain pulls out of the EU.
In June 2016, the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, organized a vote of the population on whether or not to leave the European Union. He did so as a political maneuver against a right wing party that was calling for Britain to exit the EU, blaming it for the problems facing British workers. But to Cameron’s surprise, the so-called “Brexit” (British Exit) vote passed, and he was removed from power. The current Prime Minister, Theresa May, is from the same Conservative Party. She has tried to oversee Brexit, even though she did not campaign for it.
The rivalries between politicians are one thing, and the interests of the capitalists are another. The big majority of the British capitalist class does not want to give up access to the European market, and the European capitalists also want to keep Great Britain as part of the European market.
May’s work has consisted of trying to negotiate the appearance of a departure from the EU, while behind the scenes making sure that the exchange of goods and capital could continue as before. To satisfy the pro-Brexit demagogy, she made loud declarations against the EU and implemented policies against migrants and European citizens living in Britain.
In particular, her government announced that if there is no agreement, it would not give long-term visas to European workers, unless they can prove they earn more than 30,000 pounds (about $39,000 a year). Every possible care for the interests of the capitalists, and damn the poorest foreign workers: that is the thrust of May’s government in these negotiations.
The approach of Brexit has not helped Great Britain escape from the economic crisis. Just the opposite. It has aggravated the fall in the value of the pound sterling, Britain’s currency. A number of politicians from her own party have distanced themselves from Theresa May. Some play an even more reactionary game, while others want to renounce Brexit. As for the Labour Party, the majority of its base is against Brexit, but its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, continues to defend it.
This is why Theresa May’s government has had such a hard time getting a majority in Parliament to vote for the Brexit deal it negotiated with the EU. This deal might be the least-bad solution from the point of view of the British capitalists, who seek to protect their interests while retaining the semblance of respecting the so-called will of the people. It is possible that an additional delay will prod the EU into resuming negotiations. It is also still possible that Theresa May will be removed, which could bring new elections and maybe a victory for the Labour Party, who could call a new referendum on whether or not Great Britain should leave the EU. The economic crisis has thus touched off a political crisis that might be inextricable, because the British bourgeois politicians, in trying to keep their electoral support, engage in increasingly reactionary demagogy.
Brexit is a poison, because it divides the working class between pro- and anti-Brexit, and it reinforces nationalist prejudices and directs them against foreign workers. The workers have nothing to hope for from this political system and these politicians who, with the open crisis of Brexit, have shown their irresponsibility. The workers must have confidence in their own forces, in their own capacity to defend their interests through class struggle.