Editorial: The Brexit Distraction

Brexit is continuing to tear the fabric of British capitalist politics apart. The Conservative Party is deeply divided with the European Research Group (ERG) faction acting like a separate party organising its own leaders and whips. Three pro-Remain Tory MPs have left to join the newly established Independent Group of MPs. Cabinet members openly defy the Prime Minister, whose authority is in a state of collapse. The Labour Party is similarly split between its Remain and Leave supporters preventing it from developing a coherent Brexit policy. Open warfare has broken out between the government and the MPs. The Speaker of the house invoked an old parliamentary ruling to prevent Theresa May from resubmitting her deal for a third vote in the current parliamentary session unless it has been substantially changed. May delivered an extraordinary statement where she presented herself as the people’s champion against a recalcitrant Parliament that is thwarting the people’s wishes.

This high drama reveals two things. The British capitalist class is deeply split as regards to their relationship with the EU. The larger capitalists with greater global connections tend to favour staying in the customs union and the single market, whereas smaller businesses that rely mainly on the UK market and resent EU red tape prefer to leave the EU. There are also some dodgy City wideboys who want to keep the EU from regulating their financial affairs.

The fallout from the 2008 financial crash and the austerity policies imposed by governments in its wake have created great social discontent. This has manifested itself in popular disaffection with mainstream capitalist politics and anger at what are seen as out of touch wealthy elites. This has provided opportunities for populist movements to flourish where they can pose as champions of the ordinary workers against the political establishments. To varying degrees of success they have been able to channel working class anger and frustration towards xenophobic and racist politics, blaming immigrant workers for the worsening conditions of ‘native’ workers. Populists have come to power in the USA, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Turkey. The Alternative für Deutschland are the main opposition party in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party has achieved a significant amount of support n France. In the UK, populism has manifested itself in the popularity of UKIP and the rise in the Eurosceptic tendency within the Tory party. Its crowning achievement was the vote to leave the EU in 2016. It was with the hope of seeing off these populist tendencies that David Cameron called the EU referendum

Workers are encouraged to take sides in what is essentially a dispute between capitalists as to how they manage their trading relationships. Unfortunately, this has reinforced divisions within the working class – between ‘native’ workers and immigrant workers; between Remain supporting workers who tend to be more affluent and Leave supporters, who, in large part, hail from poorer areas.

Brexit is a distraction for British workers. Whether the UK is in or out of the EU, workers will continue to experience the problems of wage or salary employment. They should unite for socialism, a global classless, moneyless society of common ownership.