With less than four weeks to go before Britain is due to leave the European Union at 11pm on Friday, March 29, the House of Commons is very little nearer to agreeing what the Withdrawal Agreement should be. The Deal agreed between the government negotiating team and the EU leaders, an agreement which has been endorsed by the other 27 EU member countries, has been rejected by MPs. Changes to the Deal have been ruled out by the EU negotiators. Theresa May has attempted to negotiate changes with them without success, while being unable to convince MPs to accept the Deal that has been negotiated.
This situation has been described as a shambles. A shambles dates back to the blood and gore of butchery and the slaughterhouse, a state of total disorder. The more the House of Commons has attempted rational debate on the question of leaving the European Union, the more irrational the situation has become.
Theresa May continues to be in denial that this is the case. She is pinning her hopes on convincing the EU negotiators that the “backstop” can be replaced by “alternative arrangements” and therefore placating the “rebels” in the Conservative Party who are angling for a No-Deal Brexit. This is not an acceptable course of action, even if it were possible. It flies in the face of the movement towards Irish unity, and would be contrary to the Good Friday, or “Belfast”, Agreement, which is an internationally-binding peace treaty.
Parliament has shown its dysfunctionality, in that it is incapable of finding any solution to the issue of Brexit. Furthermore, it can bear being repeated that whether to Remain in or Leave the EU was neither the problem to be solved for the people when the Referendum was called, nor did the ruling elite call the Referendum to ascertain the will of the people on that question. It has served only to cloud the issue of what should be the direction for the economy and for society, and to divert the people from taking this orientation and discussing the way forward. The stark reality is that the neo-liberal agenda of the ruling elite in this country has been consistent with the neo-liberal agenda of the European Union. The concentration of wealth and power is certainly a characteristic of the EU, but the call to “take back control” does nothing to empower working people, and has both spread illusions about the nature of Westminster democracy and been used to foment racism.
There have been many and inconclusive debates at Westminster, as the House of Commons has endeavoured to square the circle between those that demand Brexit at any cost and those that see Britain’s remaining in the EU as a matter of principle. Whether by accident or design, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland appears to be heading towards the worst of all possible worlds. A “meaningful vote” has been postponed until March 12, and who is to say that it will not be postponed once more, or what it will resolve when it does take place. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has commented that a delay to the March 29 Brexit date seems unavoidable. But, as the ball is in Britain’s court, and the prospect of a clear outcome in the “meaningful vote” seems itself unlikely, chaos is the most likely result.
Which trade rules is Britain going to follow? What on earth is the meaning of a “sovereign economy” when multinationals rule the roost, and can decide at a whim whether their vested interests are to be served by manufacturing in Britain or not, Brexit or no Brexit? How racist and xenophobic is the ruling elite going to be, using the pretext of “taking back control”? A rules-based international order and the rule of law which the government promote mask a reality which is the polar opposite. Something new is required, recognising that solutions based on an archaic and obsolescent outlook cannot be found. That something new has to be the human factor, bringing to bear the power and initiative of the working class and people. But the weight of the past blocking the future is depriving people of this power and initiative.
Furthermore, looming large is the threat of “hard power” which the ruling elite puts above everything, as embodied in the present pro-war government. In this situation, even whatever trade deals emerge from the chaos are bound to be part of the pro-war outlook and used as such.
In this situation, it is true that Jeremy Corbyn is manoeuvring to give some opening to his slogan of “For the Many, Not the Few”, which goes beyond the division of the polity into “left” and “right”, or into Leavers and Remainers. Although the amendment in his name was defeated [see For Your Information article, below] given the impasse, would Theresa May eventually settle on something close to what Jeremy Corbyn proposed? Jeremy Corbyn has recognised that Parliament has “been pushed to the edge”. However, it seems that the government is hell bent on defeating itself and deepening the crisis of credibility of Parliament. It cannot resolve the the contradictions among the ruling elite in society.
What does this indicate for the people’s movement? A meaningful discussion has to be worked for with a view to working out what is in the people’s interests. Any solution is to be found, not along chauvinist lines, that Britain has to be “independent”, but by ending the ruling elite’s relations of exploitation internationally and at home. Let us take a stand for our own interests, based on proletarian internationalism and the politics of empowerment!
As Workers’ Weekly concluded in its January 26 issue: “In our view, this is what Brexit is calling on us, the working people, to do. We should fight for the New. In the face of the all-round crisis, we should organise for the alternative. What this means is to recognise how Parliament has become completely dysfunctional, not even recognising what its own norms are and certainly not capable of sorting out a way out of the impasse, and instead to take a stand in defence of the rights of all. It is to take a stand in favour of the people’s empowerment.”
For Your Information
Amendments and Agreed Motion in the House of Commons on the UK’s Withdrawal from the EU
On February 27, 2019, MPs debated the motion put forward by the government: “That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019;
and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing.”
The amendment in the name of Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, stated: (a), leave out from “House” to end and add:
(a) to negotiate with the EU for changes to the Political Declaration to secure:
i. a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU;
ii. close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations;
iii. dynamic alignment on rights and protections;
iv. commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation;
v. unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases;
(b) to introduce primary legislation to give statutory effect to this negotiating mandate.”.
It was defeated by 323 votes to 240.
The amendment in the name of Ian Blackford (Leader of the SNP at Westminster) stated: in line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add
“is determined not to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and future framework under any circumstances, and regardless of any exit date.”
It was defeated by 324 votes to 288.
The amendment in the name of Alberto Costa (Conservative MP for South Leicestershire) stated: at end, add
“; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens’ Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
It was accepted without a division.
The amendment in the name of Yvette Cooper (Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) stated: at end, add
“; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.”.
It was passed by 502 votes to 20.
The amended motion that was passed was:
That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens’ Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.
Workers’ Weekly E-Mail Edition Volume 49, Number 3 March 2 2019