Europe

Report from Britain: “Brexit rumbles on”

Ridhard Evans reports from Birmingham, Britain:

Brexit rumbles on. Yet another last chance deadline missed. Same again next week. It doesn’t matter much materially, if Britain is a semi-detached EU member (which it has been since joining in 1973) or a semi-detached non-member, which seemed to be the choice prior to the referendum being called. Yet Brexit has become the cleave between left and right and we are still in the phoney war of the Withdrawal Agreement (the legal settlement of the divorce from the EU) and have yet to enter the real battle of our future relationship with the EU. Such is the importance given to it, that one million marched through London last week calling for a referendum to overturn Brexit ; perhaps the biggest march ever seen in Britain. 

‘John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, said Trump was “eager for the will of the British people to be carried out, and he is even more eager to do a trade deal”.
The veteran US politician also attempted to assuage widely-held concerns over the potential damage from a no-deal Brexit, highlighting how Britain would be able to boost transatlantic trade.
“People who worry about the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union – they are going to crash right into the United States,” Bolton told Sky News.
“We are standing here waiting to make a trade deal with a UK independent of the EU.”’ (from an article in the “The National
According to Evans, the offered US trade deal includes acceptance of US farm produce and access to British public sector contracts including the NHS.

Brexiteers, aside from their reactionary English nationalist wing, favour a simple free trade agreement with the EU (known as Canada Plus) or the even more right wing Singapore model. The latter group represents a utopian capitalism, as there is no way that a British working class would stand for such a destruction of their rights and living standards. 

Three Trade Blocs: Tory Right wing
The modern world is developing towards having three major global trading blocs; Chinese-led, US-led and the EU. The reality is that all modern economies will be drawn into one of these ; but the EU will have the highest standards of all in terms of worker’s rights, consumer rights and environmental standards. The Tory right, apart from the Singapore utopians, favour being part of the US bloc (Nafta and the Pacific) where they believe they can revive the Thatcher revolution of privatisation and reduced workers’ rights. 

“Soft” Brexit
Standing against this are the remainers and those who favour a soft Brexit (Norway Plus in the jargon – Norway is in the Single Market but not the customs’ union, but because of the need to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland, Britain would need to be in the customs’ union as well). Effectively, this would keep Britain in the EU trading bloc but outside of the EU’s political institutions. 

Because the British Parliament has to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, as well as pass the necessary legislation, Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has attempted to blackmail MPs into voting for her agreement by setting a date on which Britain would crash out of the EU (29th March) with an economically disastrous “no deal” Brexit, if her deal was not passed. The last 4 months has seen parliamentary deadlock with her deal being pressed to a vote three times and three times being heavily defeated (the first time, by a record margin for any government). 

Fourth Attempt?
What now? There is a possibility of a fourth attempt at gaining a majority in the House of Commons this week. If this fails, May will almost certainly have to go back to the EU to ask for a longer extension to Article 50 (the legal process of exit the EU). She has already been granted a short extension ; but the EU will probably attach conditions : a change in Britain’s negotiating position, ie the removal of May”s “red lines” over free movement, in particular – this would mean a softer Brexit ; or a democratic event, such as a referendum or a general election. The future course is unclear but the chances of a referendum or election have increased. 

Labour
In a referendum, Labour ‘s position would be to oppose the Tory Brexit and vote remain. In a general election, Labour would probably call for a re-negotiated Brexit including a permanent customs’ union and alignment with the Single Market (Norway Plus) subject to a confirmatory referendum ; thus uniting soft-Brexiteers and remainers. The Tory’s line would be May’s agreement and a loser free trade agreement (Canada Plus). 

The Tories are slightly ahead in the polls at the moment but the chance of them losing a proportion of their vote to the English nationalist right is greater than the chance of Labour losing voters. Any election at the moment, whether EU (Britain would probably have to hold European elections in May if there was an extension to Article 50) or general, would see UKIP (now a narrow right wing nationalist party) and a Nigel Farage led “Leave” party standing, probably taking votes off the Tories – the Tories increased their vote at the last election because the UKIP vote collapsed into their’s. Any significant split in the right wing leave vote would probably mean a Corbyn government. 

Of course it could be that the May government puts enough money on the table to buy the 10 DUP (right wing Northern Irish unionist party) and persuades enough Labour MPs to vote for  her deal at the 4th time of asking ;in which case it’ll be battle postponed, as the next phase of the negotiations on the future relationship with the EU will expose the divisions of the right between the soft-Brexiteers, hard-Brexiteers and ultra-hard Brexiteers (Norway vs Canada vs Singapore). 

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