Amid profound political and constitutional crisis and financial upheaval, British Prime Minister David Cameron has fallen on his own sword and announced his resignation – although not until the Conservative Party conference in October. Results from the referendum on EU membership initiated by Cameron show it pulling Britain and the north of Ireland out of the European Union by a total vote of an estimated 51.7 per cent to 48.3 per cent.
Opinion polls along with Canadian media commentary and reports published ahead of the vote once again proved wildly incorrect and propagandistic – some suggest contrary polls were suppressed – as the “Leave” vote gained a majority of almost a million votes by 5am this Friday morning.
The “Leave” camp did much better than expected in the post-industrial northern English towns and the Labour-voting former mining valleys in Wales. Significantly, the north of Ireland and Scotland showed clear majorities for remaining in the EU, with 56 per cent and 62 per cent in favour of “Remain” respectively, while England and Wales voted for ‘Leave’ by some 54 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.
The results of the referendum paint a picture of Britain as a deeply divided state, fractured along lines of region, class, age and, in the Six Counties, along sectarian lines. It is well known from the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence that “Project Fear” and “Project Slander” were used to lower the level of political discourse to its lowest level, and attempt to create hysteria so that a just and informed position became increasingly difficult to take. These attempts by the ruling elite took a very nasty course with the demagogic promotion of fascist-type organizations and stands in England against immigrants and foreigners in general, culminating in a fatal gun and knife attack on Labour MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned on behalf of Syrian refugees and against Islamophobia. The state has given the green light to this vile and putrid atmosphere, with the leading figures in the official EU “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns competing to take the most reactionary stands.
These attempts seem so desperate because the ruling elite has shown that it is incapable of sorting out any differences among its ranks within arrangements of the status quo. Traditional Labour Party strongholds turned in a clear majority for the Brexit, while Labour’s parliamentary group in the Lower House, polled only seven of its members clearly favouring leaving the EU – 215, on the other hand, were energetically in favour of remaining.
In the north of Ireland, there was a strong trend towards remaining in the EU in nationalist constituencies, and for leaving in unionist constituencies. The strongest “Remain” votes were in Derry, where 78 per cent backed EU membership, followed by west Belfast at 74 per cent, while the strongest “Leave” votes were in north Antrim, where 62 per cent backed “Leave”, followed by Strangford at 56 per cent.
The biggest surprise of the night for the media was in Wales, where only 5 of the 22 Welsh authorities voted to remain, the rest for “Leave”. The Welsh division of the Labour Party, which governs Wales – it also campaigned to stay in the EU with the false call that jobs, rights, working conditions, and so on, “depend on Europe” – is now trying to depict the result as a protest against Tory austerity as well as immigration, that is, the people are racist, which is the hallmark of reaction.
What is glossed over is the fact that whether in the EU or in Britain, control over the human, material and natural resources lies not with the people and the Welsh, Scottish and Irish people are denied sovereignty, but with the monopolies and the ruling elites whose mantra is to make these monopolies competitive in the global market.
There was a similar story across swathes of England, where industrial and working class areas voted strongly for “Leave”, while the wealthier and more cosmopolitan constituencies of London and other southern urban centres voted strongly for “Remain”.
At the heart of the debate about whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union is the issue of where decision-making power lies. Along with the political crisis, the deepening of theconstitutional crisis of the United Kingdom looms.
There was a very clear divide between Scotland and England, with voters north of the border showing much stronger support for“Remain”. In Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, voters backed “Remain” by a margin of two to one, with 67 per cent in favour of staying in Europe, compared to 33 per cent who backed a Brexit.
Later in the day, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland announced that she is initiating the procedure on a new referendum for Scottish independence from the UK, in order to retain Scottish membership of the EU. The Scottish National Party’s manifesto ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament election said Scotland should have the right to hold a second independence vote if there is a “significant and material” change in circumstances from 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.
In the north of Ireland, Sinn Féin leaders called for a referendum on reunification with the Irish Republic. Speaking as the results came in early this morning, Sinn Féin’s national chairman Declan Kearney said Brexit will have “massive ramifications for the British State as we know it” – including the return of border checkpoints and a customs barrier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
It is worth recalling that the decision of the Irish Republic to join the EU was widely unpopular. In 1986, the Republic of Ireland held up the treaty known as the Single European Act (ratified by the Thatcher led Conservative Government) for one year because it offended their constitution. “We will see a prominent constitutional crisis getting started,” Kurt Huebner, a UBC professor of European studies, told the National Post. “Irish unification will be back on the agenda and so will Scottish independence.” Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary can initiate a poll in circumstances where it was clear public opinion had swung towards Irish unity.
Military neutrality has deep roots in Ireland and is still supported by an overwhelming majority of the Irish population – according to a poll, by nearly 80 per cent. Sinn Féin party points out that EU troops are deployed in Africa to protect “the interests of former European colonial powers in their former colonies” – and that this can hardly be compatible with Irish neutrality. Because austerity dictates are still in effect, criticism of the Berlin/EU crisis policy has not abated among Irish citizens. The social situation is deteriorating and, under the weight of the crisis, the country has the highest emigration rate in Europe.
The Canadian ruling elite once again played a perfidious role, providing technical and political resources to the Cameron government on how to win the referendum, as it did during the Scottish referendum on independence. The Seafarer’s Union and other bodies publicly campaigned during the 2015 federal election against the Canada Europe Trade Agreement known as CETA negotiated by the Harper government and zealously promoted by the Trudeau government as providing ”benefits” to private capital. Such “free trade” agreements as CETA and the TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) are a telling exposure of the aims of the monopolies to ride roughshod over the sovereignty of nations and peoples. They are “agreements” over which the people have no jurisdiction.
The Brexit vote occurs within the deepening of serious inter-imperialist contradictions and rivalries. The US empire is not reconciled to the empire-building of the European Union nor the Eurocorps (EU army), but rather it is keen itself on dominating Europe and utilizing the EU to this end, pushing eastwards in collaboration with NATO to attempt to isolate and encircle Russia and dominate Asia. The Obama regime has been demanding that the European members of NATO increase their financial and military contributions to this aggressive bloc. It encourages the ruling elite of Britain to collude with it in this scenario. This ruling elite, however, is irreconcilably split between allying itself with US capital or with European capital.
In an editorial,Workers’ Weekly pointed out that “The central issue that remains is that at the heart of the debate about whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union is the issue of where decision-making power lies. It is important that this question is framed not in terms of what benefits ‘Britain’, when what is glossed over is the fact that whether in the EU or in Britain, control over the human, material and natural resources lies not with the people but with the monopolies and the ruling elites whose mantra is to make these monopolies competitive in the global market.”
The big media has run non-stop commentaries that the working class Leave vote is “xenophobic, racist” in the words of the CNN diva, Christiane Amanpour, as if the issue of whether to remain or leave the EU is of no concern to the working class and people. Far from it. The European Union itself is part of the arrangements of those monopolies to compete in the global market while the people pay the price. Thus the EU is an enemy of the people’s striving to control the direction of the economy and assert their sovereignty over political and social affairs. The EU is one more obstacle to decision-making power being vested in the people, and it represents the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elites who advance the cause of private interests and pay no heed to the rights of the people.
With files from news agencies, Workers’ Weekly, Irish Republican News
The referendum is not binding, which means a new prime minister or government might not see themselves as bound by the popular vote — or could initiate a second referendum. There is no assurance that the Brexit proposal will be ratified by the British House of Commons.
Britain has to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will set off two years of negotiations (which can be extended) to hash out a withdrawal agreement. The U.K. remains a member of the EU during this period but has no voting rights.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is another matter entirely, legally binding, unlike Thursday’s vote. It states as follows:
“1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.
That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.”
It doesn’t appear this will happen anytime soon. In what amounts to a delaying tactic, Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced he will be stepping down, says he will let his successor decide when to invoke Article 50. Cameron insisted that it was still his prerogative to decide when Article 50 was invoked and he would not do so until a new Conservative Party leader was elected in the autumn.
The EU says it wants to begin talks as soon as possible but can’t force Britain to initiate the process.