19 November 2018

As the Tories totter on the edge Labour must support a second referendum

The idea that British capitalism is superior to European capitalism is a delusion born of imperial grandeur

Many on the Left who support leaving the EU (Lexit) somehow believe that an independent British capitalist state is preferable to European capitalism. It is difficult to understand why given the support for Brexit of people like William Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and others on the Tory Right, to say nothing of UKIP. Indeed the original apostle of Brexit was none other than the original monetarist and free marketer Enoch Powell.
That the European Union is based on free-market capitalism is undeniable.  However that is a problem that needs to be opposed by the labour movement on a European wide basis. The idea of a British state going it alone with a low tax regime and further anti-union laws hardly seems to be a progressive let alone a socialist position.
It is clear that Theresa May’s agreement is a humiliating one in that Britain will remain in the customs union and Northern Ireland within the single market with a backstop guaranteeing that this is subject to an EU veto.  The alternative, no deal, is one which is horrific to contemplate.
The break-up of the European Union is something which unites the Far-Right throughout Europe. Brexit is seen as a something to aim at by those who would clearly love to see the break of the European Union.  It is not too much to suggest that if the EU were to break up we could eventually see the return of military conflicts between different states.  This was, after all, the original reason for the setting up of the Iron and Steel Confederation which later became the Common Market.
It is no coincidence that Donald Trump, a self-declared nationalist and in reality a White Supremacist welcomes Brexit.  It means imposing trade terms on Britain, for example the dropping of existing food standards, that are inherent in the Single Market. It is welcomed by Steve Bannon and the alt-Right who see Brexit as bolstering nationalism, racism and the demonistation of Muslims.
Theresa May’s deal is unacceptable not least for its hostility to State aid to industry. We stay half-in and half-out of the EU. A Brexit without a deal is equally unacceptable. This means inevitably that the only real option is a second referendum.
Of course there will be squeals and howls from those who cry that it is ‘undemocratic’.  Why?  It is simply giving people a right to make an informed decision, based on what they have seen for the past two years. Of course it is possible that a majority will still vote for Brexit but I somehow suspect that after having been lied to in the first referendum (the £300m+ promised to the NHS) that many people will not have the wool pulled over their eyes for a second time.
The position of Corbyn has been described by some as masterly.  I disagree.  Doing nothing is not a brilliant strategy and it is clear from Corbyn’s comments today and those of McDonnell yesterday that Labour is moving towards a second referendum .  The opposition to the EU based on opposition to free movement of workers is reactionary.  Low wages are not caused by immigration but by weak trade unions. It is the lack of a fight by the British working class which has led to Britain being a low waged economy.
People seem to forget that it wasn’t the EU who closed the mines, shipbuilding yards and much else but Thatcher and free market economics. Those in the North voting Brexit do it from a position of weakness and despair.  The EU is a handy scapegoat but it is hardly responsible for what the Tories have done.
The idea of an independent British capitalism is a belief that Britain is strong enough to form its own trade treaties and on its own terms.  The USA and other countries are likely to disillusion them.  This is a left-over from the British Empire.  It is Suez repeated all over again but as farce. Deliberately destroying your own trading relationships hardly seems to me to be a socialist strategy.
I believe Labour should throw its weight behind staying in the European Union and give its support for a second referendum. I have no doubt that this will create its own momentum towards a Labour victory at the General Election.
Tony Greenstein

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