As we go to press, British prime minister Theresa May has just triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to commence the process of the UK’s exit from the European Union by 29 March 2019. This has happened despite all the manoeuvring of various bits of the state apparatus by apparatchiks of Britain’s imperialist bourgeoisie, which cannot believe that it has irredeemably shot itself in the foot.
To try to prevent this outcome MPs such as Labour’s David Lammy called for parliament to overturn the referendum result, and the supreme court was even dragged in to say that Brexit could not proceed without the agreement of parliament. Lammy and his fellow toadies had their day(s) in parliament, but nevertheless, after three readings in parliament, the government’s Brexit bill was passed by 494 votes to 122.
Martin Wolf of the Financial Times duly expressed the horror of Britain’s imperialist overlords, describing the triggering of Brexit as “a tragedy for the UK, but … also a tragedy for Europe. It is an appalling way to celebrate the EU’s 60th anniversary. Even if the exit negotiations go well, the decision to leave the EU will have huge consequences for the UK. Economically, it will lose favourable access to by far its biggest market. Politically, it will create great stresses inside the UK and Ireland. Strategically, it will eject the UK from its role in EU councils. The UK [he means, of course, Britain’s imperialist capitalist class] will be poorer, more divided and less influential.” (Brexiters must lose if Brexit is to succeed, 29 March 2017)
Theresa May had been hoping that exit negotiations could proceed in tandem with negotiations for a new protocol governing relations between the UK and the EU, in particular with regard to trade access. The German-led EU, however, is playing hardball on this issue because of the real fear that if Britain is seen to be given favourable trade terms too soon, this will encourage a mass exodus from the union – an exodus already threatened by the member states worst affected by the world economic crisis, who have been finding that the EU offers them no protection at all in these circumstances!
All in all, Brexit has severely aggravated the contradictions between all the various European national interests. Theresa May indicated in the Brexit letter delivered to EU president Donald Tusk that failure to offer Britain an acceptable trade deal could result in it refusing to cooperate on matters of crime and anti-terrorism – subtle diplomacy indeed!
On the other hand, the EU appears likely to be demanding reimbursement from Britain for various broken contracts, starting with an initial £50bn, plus further billions payable until 2020: “The £50bn bill would include the UK’s share of outstanding pensions liabilities, loan guarantees and spending on UK-based projects. Jean-Claude Juncker has warned the European Union will demand a ‘very hefty’ Brexit divorce bill.
“The commission president said Theresa May will not be able to negotiate a ‘cut-price or zero-cost’ Brexit and will have to settle the bill for commitments which it entered into as a long standing member.” (Philip Hammond does not recognise EU demands for a 50bn pound Brexit divorce bill by Laura Hughes)
So anxious is Martin Wolf on behalf of British finance capital to secure a good trade deal that he is urging May to pay whatever is asked. Of course, he does not explicitly say where the money is to come from, but it is doubtful he would consider taxing the rich to be a good idea!
At the same time, the remainers in the British parliament are gaily announcing that they will obstruct to the best of their ability all the legislation designed to ‘restore sovereignty to Britain’ – ie, to amend all current acts of parliament that reserve any powers to EU institutions. These would normally be dealt with by statutory instruments that generally become law without parliamentary debate because they are uncontroversial, but the remainers will be insisting on all kinds of obscure provisions being debated in order to waste parliamentary time.
Furthermore, “parliament will need to pass at least seven controversial bills covering areas such as immigration, agriculture, trade and customs regimes, fisheries and data protection, which are currently covered by EU laws”. It can be imagined what fun parliament will have with those! (Remainers will use repeal bill to ambush parliament by Oliver Wright, The Times, 30 March 2017)
With Britain and Europe weakened as imperialist powers, there are no doubt hard times ahead. Rather than be cowed by this knowledge, it should spur on the understanding in the working class that the broken capitalist system needs to be overthrown and replaced by an economic system fit for purpose in the modern world – ie, a planned economy geared not to profit but to the wellbeing of the masses of the people present and future. That is to say, an economy run by and for the working class.