The following article is reproduced from the Marx Engels Lenin Institute website, with thanks.
The new deal that has been reached between prime minister Rishi Sunak and the European Commission regarding the Northern Ireland protocol should be regarded as the point where the British ruling class finally managed to begin the process of decisively reversing Brexit.
Though the Windsor framework is mostly a matter of easing the passage of goods between Britain and northern Ireland, the unanimity of the political class over it should raise the suspicion of anyone who is a supporter of Brexit. The deal, in short, does away with customs checks on goods coming into Britain from the north of Ireland and vice versa.
This situation arose because of Boris Johnson’s deal with Emmanuel Macron back in 2019, whereby northern Ireland would remain in the European Union’s single market and, by default, the customs border would thereby be the Irish Sea. This led to the need for a series of customs checks which the British bureaucracy proved either unwilling or unable to implement and further angered the Democratic Unionist party, which saw it as an erosion of northern Ireland’s place within Britain.
The EU and the pro-EU factions within the British state bureaucracy declared that a new arrangement was needed. This is what the Windsor framework is supposed to be about: ‘resolving the outstanding issues’.
What is actually happening is that Sunak is pushing ahead with what will likely be a series of measures that will, eventually, take Britain back into the European single market, and perhaps even into formal re-entry of the EU.
Why would Sunak risk the annihilation of his party at an election from angry pro-Brexit Tory voters by moving the country back towards the EU? The answer lies in the priorities of the British capitalist class and its interests, to which Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer are both dedicated servants.
The British ruling class opposed leaving the EU because its dominant section, the financial capitalists, gained a great deal from membership. The ability to move capital without boundaries across the whole area of the EU was something they found valuable, as were the benefits to the City of London more widely.
Being an EU member state made the City Of London and its banks even more attractive to capitalists who wanted to do business in the bloc. Since Britain’s formal departure from the EU, the City of London has lost its premier position in the equity markets to Paris.
Another benefit to British capitalism from EU membership was being able to draw from a continent-wide labour pool. This helped maintain the low-wage status of much work in Britain by having easy access to workers from central and eastern Europe, who were often very highly educated, to work in comparatively low-waged positions in the service sector.
From a strategic point of view the presence of Britain within the EU bloc also helped US imperialism, because if the French or Germans got any ideas about the development of a European army that could endanger the status of Nato, then Britain could be relied upon to train wreck the idea.
The USA has always been concerned that the EU should remain subservient to it, and doesn’t want it to develop into a clear imperialist rival. Many of the actions of US imperialism during the nine years of war in Ukraine have been about ensuring that the European states remain under its control.
In just the same way, the US blocked potential peace agreements during the Balkan wars of the 1990s until the European powers were prepared to follow the US lead. The US imperialists did this by instructing the Bosnian leadership, which they firmly controlled, to agree to nothing. When the USA had made its point to its European allies/vassals that it was the only one capable of bringing about peace then the Bosnians were told to sign on the line following the talks in Dayton.
Britain’s role in the EU has always been a crucial one from the US point of view, which is why former US president Barack Obama tried to intervene during the Brexit referendum when the polls started to look bad for the remain side.
All of this means that the interests of the British ruling class and US imperialism are firmly in favour of Brexit being cancelled if they can possibly achieve that. What prevented an immediate cancellation of the Brexit referendum was the wider political chaos that broke out after 2016 within British bourgeois politics.
This was itself reflective of a deep crisis of British capitalism that had been ongoing since the economic crash of 2008. Brexit was one manifestation of this but the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to become Labour leader was another. Corbyn’s rise to the Labour party leadership worried the ruling class so much that they prioritised his political destruction over the blocking of Brexit.
You may ask why, considering that Corbyn was a mild social democrat who became ever more mild with each day that passed. What worried the ruling class was that Corbyn, whilst not breaking from the pro-capitalist nature of the Labour party, did make commitments that inspired a degree of mass enthusiasm.
This in itself was enough to provoke hostility from the ruling class as they have a morbid fear of any political force that isn’t under strict control of established bourgeois political forces. This is actually the same reason why the US ruling class distrusted Donald Trump: his political base was attained via his own notoriety and wasn’t dependent upon the Republican party itself.
As chaos gripped the Conservative party under Theresa May and they almost lost the 2017 election, the ruling class got its priorities in line. First, they wanted Corbyn out of the way – even after his total capitulation on Brexit. To this end, they had to tolerate Boris Johnson for a while.
Once Corbyn was done and the Labour party was firmly under the control of Sir Keir Starmer, they no longer needed Boris Johnson and so he was disposed of easily enough in an internal Conservative party coup.
Liz Truss was another potential barrier, having made very public commitments over defending Brexit and being the choice of the Tory rank and file. A well-timed intervention by the governor of the Bank of England which led to a market meltdown secured (alongside her undoubted ineptitude) the rapid destruction of Truss.
Now the ruling class has both major parties back under the control of solid political establishment figures, with Boris Johnson relegated to the after-dinner speakers circuit and the hardcore Brexiteers split.
Having firmly disposed of the populist elements within the British political system, we can expect our rulers to push ever more quickly towards British re-entry to the EU. They are secure in the knowledge that even if the Tory voters rebel or vote for an alternative pro-Brexit party, the next prime minister will be none other than Keir Starmer, who is as establishment a figure as it is possible to be.
He was the main organiser of the internal revolt inside the parliamentary Labour party against the original policy of respecting the referendum result. He leads a party that is united completely in its support for the EU, and so even if the Tories are dispatched the project to re-join will be able to proceed.
What we are witnessing is the efficient management of their political system by the British bourgeoisie. Millions of working-class people voted for Brexit, as it was a chance to revolt against a ruling class that treated workers with open contempt. The opportunity to lash out at them was seized upon, but the ruling class could not accept a result that so fundamentally went against its interests.
The entire state bureaucracy, most of the media and academia are all in favour of returning to the EU, reflecting their positions as tools of bourgeois rule, and so they all worked non-stop to make sure Brexit fell.
The Tories, being the party of British capitalism, were unable and unwilling to resist such pressure, and have thus begun to deliver the undoing of Brexit.
The ruling class may think that this solves its problems, but in all likelihood this will be like a man trying to pour wine back into a bottle once it has spilt. The contradictions that generated the Brexit vote are still very much there, and the anger of the working class is only growing.
Very soon, the British ruling class will look back at its problems with Brexit as being small fry in comparison to the ferocity of class struggles to come.