|Volume 48 Number 8, March 24, 2018||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
On February 28, the European Commission published a 119-page draft Withdrawal Agreement, setting out in legal language the conclusions of the negotiations which the negotiating teams of Britain and the EU reached in December. The Agreement was apparently updated on March 15 and 19. The amended version was to be discussed by the European Council on March 23 in Brussels. Prime Minister Theresa May is precluded from participating in these specific discussions as the representative of the withdrawing country. The European Council is not the body of MEPs, the European Parliament, but rather is in the nature of an "EU summit", where the leaders - Prime Ministers, Presidents or Chancellors - of the at present 28 EU member states meet to set the EU's overall political direction. In other words, they set the agenda for what are considered to be the EU's priorities. Its President is Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland.
As a political institution, the European Union is a neo-liberal supranational organisation which has its origins in the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951 and the EEC (European Economic Community), effective from 1958, and developed into a pan-European political bloc through the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. In part, it has held in check the ambitions of either France or Germany to control Europe and in part it has been a bloc contending for dominance in a multi-polar world. It also has had the aim of keeping in check the movement of the working class and people against neo-liberalism and austerity, and enforcing what are referred to as the "four freedoms" - the neo-liberal conceptions of the "free movement of capital, goods, services and labour".
The referendum in Britain of June 23, 2016, is now well-known as a cynical ploy by the Cameron government to settle divisions within the ranks of the ruling elite, but one which went awry. It was never designed to ascertain the "will of the people", however seriously they took it. It has left Britain without an aim in its Brexit negotiations, while the control of their own lives and future to which the people aspire is not an aim which is on the agenda of any section of the ruling elite.
Referring to the March 23 European Council meeting, the Council's website says:
"The European Council, meeting in an EU27 format, will be updated on the state of play of the Brexit negotiations by the Commission's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
"The EU27 heads of state or government will adopt the draft guidelines on the framework for a future relationship with the UK after Brexit. These guidelines will serve as a mandate for the EU negotiator to start discussing the framework for the future relationship, with the aim of reaching an overall understanding. That understanding will be reflected in a political declaration accompanying the withdrawal agreement and referred to in it." (Bold in the original)
The withdrawal agreement should be agreed and ratified before Brexit takes place, which is set for March 29, 2019. Only then, says the European Council, can a future relationship between the EU and the UK be finalised and concluded. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty ("Treaty on European Union") requires, according to a House of Commons briefing paper, the European Parliament (EP) to approve the final text of the withdrawal agreement. If the EP approves the agreement by a simple majority, it must be passed by European Council acting by qualified majority (20 of the other 27 Member States) for it be concluded. The British government is committed to holding a vote on a resolution in both Houses of Parliament, before the EP holds its vote, where the Commons and Lords will be asked to approve the withdrawal agreement. A Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill will need to be passed by exit day in order to enable transition to take effect at the moment that Britain leaves the EU.
The EU is concerned about Britain's exit, despite honeyed words of Donald Tusk of not wanting to "build a wall between the EU and Britain" and wanting to "remain friends and partners also after Brexit", from the point of view of encouraging the break-up of the European Union, as well as concern about Britain's alliance with the US rather than the EU bloc, and about complications to exercising the "four freedoms". The British government under Theresa May, for its part, has confirmed its intention to leave the Single Market, leave the customs union and leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ (European Court of Justice). The EU negotiating team concluded that the only remaining possible model for a future economic relationship is a free trade agreement. This is posed by the British government as "taking back control". The Labour Party, on the other hand, is proposing that Britain concludes an agreement to join "a customs union" with the EU.
The question can be asked: is this the way to conduct international trade and build a national economy? In the mouths of Theresa May & Co., even talk of "sovereignty" means the prioritising of private interests. Theresa May's Brexit does not work for the working class and people. It is not going to reverse the direction of the economy to serve the people of Scotland, Wales and England, or the north of Ireland, nor is it going to mean that the fight to guarantee rights is over. Far from it. On the other hand, it is fantasy to suggest that Britain's leaving the EU means that henceforth, the working class will only have one set of capitalists to fight, not many; just as it was fantasy to suggest that remaining within the EU was going to be a sure way to guarantee jobs and rights for the working people.
The referendum divided the polity. Differences over the real character of the European Union got mixed up with the implications of what carrying out Brexit or Remaining would mean for the interests of working people.
The fact is that deep-going transformations of society are required in order to turn things around to favour the people. It is this that the working class and people must discuss, and fight for the change necessary to bring them about. What the working class and people uphold is international trade not for cut-throat competition amongst the monopolies and the enrichment of the oligarchs, but for mutual benefit between states. The working class and people oppose a war economy, which includes an economy of parasitic finance capital, hedge funds, money laundering and tax havens for the rich.
But what the people are faced with is a dangerous world, with chaos in economies as in Britain and other countries in the EU. The Brexit context is one of contending powers vying to come out on top and in which nation-building projects are scorned.
In this context, the working class in Britain, as is their character, must start from an internationalist position. This includes unity in the struggle against neo-liberalism and for democratic renewal with the working class throughout Europe and indeed with the working people throughout the world as they struggle against imperialist globalisation and in defence of the sovereignty of peoples. In opposition to the "power grab" by Theresa May in regard to the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly that are envisaged with Brexit, the working class supports sovereign states of Scotland and Wales, which is a proletarian internationalist position.
Perhaps most crucial is the question of Ireland. This is an impossible stumbling block for Theresa May and Brexit. The Good Friday Agreement places responsibility on the British Government, which it is negating in its parliamentary pact with the DUP MPs at Westminster. The Downing Street Declaration of 1993 opened a path forward when Britain recognised the right of the people of the whole island of Ireland to self-determination. Now the path that Theresa May is pursuing would inexorably lead to a "hard border" between the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The issue for the working class and people is not to line up behind the Leave or Remain camps as a solution, nor is it to put faith either in the EU to guarantee rights or to imagine that the solution lies in a "people's Brexit".
The issue is that working people can do better if they possess political power themselves, if indeed it is they who "take back control". This points the way forward for the resistance of the people to the neo-liberal anti-social offensive, the struggle in defence of their rights and the rights of all, and the fight for an anti-war government which ensures this and guarantees peace, to lead to engaging in the battle for political power and new political arrangements which empower the working class and people.
The working people need the power to decide on their own development strategies and policies, and to decide on the direction of the economy They need the power to restrict the operation of capital and monopolies, in unity with workers from whatever origin so that the rights of all workers are upheld. They need the power to conduct investment and international trade in favour of the people, not pursue the path of neo-liberal "free trade". The path of so-called "free trade" is the path of the dictate of the monopolies and oligopolies and must be replaced by the control of decision-making by the people so that the socialised economy benefits them, not pays the rich. They must have the power to end all neo-colonial, imperialist or unequal relations that Britain exploits through the world.
At this time when Britain is beating the drums of war in what has been described as Cold War 2.0, and the ruling elite is thuggishly promoting xenophobia, Islamophobia and chauvinism, the necessity is to develop that resistance struggle to these policies to the pitch of an independent programme for the working class which aims to take genuine control of the direction of society and the economy and defends the rights of all.