With just ten days until the date of departure from the EU at the time of writing, there is unprecedented daily turmoil in parliament on what will happen. The government’s position has become so intractable that a complete government collapse is possible in the coming days or weeks, with a general election becoming the only solution.
Alternatively, prime minister Theresa May is now so discredited and ineffectual for the Tories that a no-confidence vote in her government might again be moved, with enough Tory MPs voting for it this time to bring about success. Then parliament would have 14 days to come up with another government, or a general election would be called.
Either way, a trade union-headed workers’ movement - with a plan of action - needs to be launched to help sweep the Tories out of power. It’s also needed to prepare a massive campaign to get Jeremy Corbyn in as prime minister, with socialist policies.
This outcome is greatly feared by the capitalist class. “The top 0.1% in Britain are doing very well”, wrote the economics editor of the Sunday Times. They want no obstacles to their hoarding of vast wealth, which could be created by the election of a government proposing to take measures in workers’ interests.
But the capitalists’ political representatives in Westminster are mired in such an acute and protracted civil war over Brexit that now is the time to turn the tables on them. Now is the time to take full advantage of their weakness, kick out the Tories, and inside Labour turn seriously to the task of deselecting the Blairites.
From crisis to crisis
On 12 March, Theresa May had her withdrawal plan decisively defeated in parliament for the second time. The week included Brexit minister, Stephen Barclay, summing up a debate in parliament in which he called - on behalf of the government - for a short extension to the withdrawal deadline.
He straightaway bare-facedly defied May by voting against the extension himself. Seven other cabinet ministers also voted against it and Tory chief whip Julian Smith abstained.
They had allowed their MPs a ‘free vote’ on that motion, but on one which ruled out a no-deal Brexit, the government whipped Tories to reject it after it was amended to apply indefinitely. The government lost that vote, with 13 ministers abstaining and one voting against. Cabinet members were among them, but the government is so powerless and fragile that May felt unable to take any action against them.
These votes were not binding, but no plan has yet been passed and May’s government has been sinking more and more deeply into crisis. When Attorney General Geoffrey Cox didn’t assist May’s deal by giving a legal assurance against the UK becoming stuck in the EU Customs Union, there were frantic attempts to get his ‘opinion’ altered.
Faced with threats that Brexit might not otherwise happen - or could be softened further or long delayed - there is a small possibility that May could end up getting a variant of her deal voted through.
But the parliamentary arithmetic doesn’t yet add up for that and many different scenarios are possible over the coming weeks. A new factor is a ruling by the Speaker of the Commons John Bercow that May can’t have a third vote on her deal if it remains the same.
Pressure is escalating in Tory and establishment circles for May to be removed. Although she won a confidence vote in December, an attempt to force her to resign could come.
Who would replace her? Numerous Tory ministers and MPs are flaunting themselves as leadership candidates and canvassing for support, but none have a position or strategy that could bridge the chasm over Europe in their party.
Extent of division
Certainly, there’s sharp division on the EU among MPs, in many cases reflecting their careerist ambitions. But the Socialist Party strongly counters the idea - repeated ad nauseam in the capitalist media - that working people are fundamentally divided on this issue.
A dangerous and inciting example of this was shown in Will Hutton’s 17 March column in the Observer. He argued that on the one side in society are pro-EU Remainers who recognise the “interdependencies” between European countries, realise the need for EU institutions that can tackle climate change, want a strong public
sector, effective trade unions, and are not hostile to other cultures, languages and people. On the other side, are those who support Brexit, who want “a world of closure, intolerance and suspicion of the other”, according to Hutton.
The idea that useful and desirable cooperation between people across Europe is only possible by supporting membership of the EU is complete fiction and pro-capitalist propaganda. The EU is, in essence, an alliance of the ruling classes across Europe, to serve the interests of big business, not those of working-class and middle-class people across the continent.
A socialist confederation of European states would be able to achieve levels of cooperation and mutual benefit for ordinary people way beyond what is possible on a capitalist basis.
Public ownership of the top companies that dominate the economies, together with democratic socialist planning, would mean the raising of living standards for all working people. This, and the removal of profit-making and market competition as over-riding forces, would also lay the basis for resources and cooperation to stop environmental disaster and enable rapid progress in useful technology and medicines.
It would be the very opposite of a Europe of ‘intolerance and suspicion’. Rather, it would be one where the removal of poverty and austerity would cut the ground from beneath distrust and racism.
Working-class people, whether they presently identify with the Remain or Leave side, have the same class interests. Corbyn recognises this. For instance, he said in Wakefield in January: “The real divide in our country is not between those who voted to Remain in the EU and those who voted to Leave. It is between the many - who do the work, who create the wealth and pay their taxes, and the few - who set the rules, who reap the rewards and so often dodge taxes”.
He must cut across the confusion and scepticism arising from the manoeuvrings in parliament and get out this message loud and clear, along with a promise of pro-working-class measures both regarding Brexit and irrespective of it.
This also means standing firm against the Labour Blairites who want to reverse the EU referendum result. Corbyn needs to stick to the demand for a general election, and help to mobilise the labour and trade union movement to urgently bring it about.