In the wake of 2016’s Brexit referendum, British politics were thrust into crisis. None of the proposed withdrawal agreements have won majority support in Parliament, nor has a reversal of Brexit. The April 12 deadline for an agreement has gone and now Britain’s Tory Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU have agreed to extend the Brexit deadline until October 31. Rather than bringing relief, however, the Brexit extension has only deepened the crisis of the British political establishment.
The Brexit negotiations are not about the interests of the working class. The EU was created in the interests of the various capitalist classes of Europe. And May’s Tory government unashamedly represents the national interests of British capitalism. Any deal that is negotiated between these two players is bound to undermine the rights and conditions of the working class.
Parties In Crisis
A revolt within the Tory Party saw a majority of its MPs vote against the extension, abstain, or not vote. The extension only passed due to votes of opposition parties. May narrowly escaped a vote of no confidence last December, and Tory backbenchers are looking for ways to change the party rules to challenge May before the end of the year.
With the Tories thrown into crisis, left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has a new opportunity. In upcoming local elections, the Tories are expected to suffer massive losses. Beyond the local elections, the Brexit extension deal commits the UK to participating in the upcoming elections for the European Parliament. Given the crisis of May’s administration, the possibility exists for a snap general election, which could bring Corbyn to power. How this plays out depends on Corbyn’s ability to mobilize the working class on a bold, socialist program.
Right-wing forces have also sought to capitalize on the Brexit crisis. A host of right-populist parties and forces aim to win over pro-Brexit Labour and Tory voters. On the pro-EU side, a new party, Change UK, was founded by a right-wing split from the Labour Party and a group of anti-Brexit Tories.
Unfortunately, Corbyn has refused to provide a bold challenge to the neoliberal Blairites within the Labour Party. Blairites still dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party as well as the Labour-led city councils. The Labour-led councils have been carrying out local austerity measures, provoking public anger towards the party in spite of Corbyn’s leadership on a national level.
Bold Working-Class Initiatives Needed
Corbyn needs to boldly campaign for an increase in the minimum wage to genuinely reflect the cost of living, huge investment in the National Health Service and education, and an end to all cuts and privatization. He also has to outline what a workers’ Brexit would look like. As a starting point, that means the immediate repeal of all EU laws that limit workers’ rights or place obstacles in the way of anti-austerity policies. This has the potential to galvanize working-class anger at austerity and sweep Corbyn’s Labour to a decisive victory.
Combined with an appeal to workers’ organizations and left parties to fight for the same approach in other countries, this can begin to build the basis for genuine cooperation and solidarity of people across Europe, on a socialist basis, in contrast to the neoliberal EU, which only serves the interests of big business and the capitalist system.