For over three years political debate in Britain has been dominated by the inability of capitalist politicians to agree if, when and how capitalist Britain should leave the capitalist EU. In July 2016 the issue was put to the people and the people voted to leave. However, this didn’t settle matters as it left open the question of what this meant. Did it mean simply leave the EU’s political institutions and its political project or did it mean also leave its single market and customs union which provided for frictionless and tariff-free trade throughout Europe?
The capitalist class has been divided over the issue. Most of the ‘business elite’ never wanted to leave and favour as soft a Brexit as possible, one that would maintain free access to the EU’s single market. A minority, mainly maverick financiers, want a clean break in order to avoid any EU regulation of its activities.
This split is mirrored amongst capitalist politicians, with parties and individuals lining up behind one or other section of the business elite. The Liberals, most of the Labour Party and some Tories are behind the mainstream majority and, counter-intuitively, the Tories under Johnson and Farage’s Brexit Party are behind the financiers who funded the Leave campaign and Johnson’s Tory leadership bid. The SNP, who want an independent capitalist Scotland, have joined those opposed to Brexit, while the DUP, still fighting yesterday’s battles in Northern Ireland, initially allied themselves with the Tories until Johnson decided to sacrifice them to get the sort of deal those who financed his leadership campaign want – one where Britain leaves both the single market and the customs union.
However, even this is not in the bag as it remains to be negotiated. The dominant section of the business elite can still get a softer Brexit if there’s a change of government. Most of them are resigned to seeking a softer Brexit rather than reversing it in a second referendum, which is just a LibDem vote-catching ploy and would be a festival of xenophobia.
Where do the workers come into this? Good question. We don’t. While a no-deal Brexit would temporarily cause us unnecessary inconvenience and any Brexit will remove our freedom to move throughout the single market area (and cause problems for those who have moved), basically this is not our dispute.
Boris Johnson has just proposed an election on 12 December. One advantage of an election would be that it would allow other issues to be discussed. Unavoidably Brexit will be an issue, but it won’t be the only one. This will allow socialists to go beyond saying that Leave or Remain is irrelevant as far as the class of wage and salary workers is concerned and to point out that the other issues – climate change, health, schools, transport, etc. – cannot be solved by the reforms to capitalism the other parties will be promising, but only within the framework of common ownership, democratic control, production directly to meet people’s needs, and distribution on the basis of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need.’