We Could Still Stop Brexit
Here I present a much overdue, much pondered but somewhat disorganised set of thoughts on how we prevent Brexit catastrophe from being fully realised. This is not a Leave/Remain discussion, and only comments that relate to strategy and tactics in preventing actual-Brexit will be accepted. (Content note, 3rd paragraph, bad relationship analogy).
To say ‘we are going to leave the EU’, at this current stage, is merely to reinforce a message we are being pushed. Until Article 50 has been declared, Brexit is only a threat from the government. The longer it takes them to issue Article 50, the more likely that it will never happen. In fact, if it doesn’t happen within 2017, we’ve probably already won. The first three months of the new year are, therefore, critical.
But its also important to understand how much has happened since June 23rd. Article 50 has effectively been delayed twice: first from June 24th to a date in October of this year, and then again until the end of March. Each delay makes it less likely. In that time, huge amounts of evidence mounted up that the mind of the British public is pretty shakey at best about going through with it. New evidence of the detrimental effects of Brexit has emerged, meaning that people are not even answering the same dilemma they faced in polling stations on that fateful day.
At this point in time, there are broadly 3 strands of thinking around Brexit. If you are reading this, you are (hopefully) in the ‘Firmly opposed’ strand. You might be a bit resigned to it happening, or hopeful that it won’t, or that might change from day to day. There’s the ‘Let’s get on with it’ strand, in who’s interests arguments like ‘the people have voted’, ‘we can’t change our minds now’, etc. are being made. And then there’s the third strand who, trapped between the referendum and outcome, act like they are between accepting a marriage proposal they now regret and The Big Day after which they are trying to convince themselves all will be fine. These people, many of whom voted against Brexit, are reinforcing the line that Brexit is now inevitable. In some ways, they’re a bigger problem than the actual Brexiteers, because they are creating a feedback loop of inevitability.
In politics, things often happen because they’ve first been made into an inevitability. The first step to preventing them happening is to throw uncertainty into the equation. Its most commonly the tactic used by the Right to prevent the policies of the Left, and we see it working all the time. We must first break the inevitability of Brexit, and then attack what’s left of the plan. And to break the inevitability, we need to challenge anyone, but mostly those who voted to Remain, to stop talking up the inevitability.
What we can’t do, is assume that this government will act rationally from an economic point of view. This is for two reasons: first, that Theresa May is very much a ‘Home Office’ Prime Minister and not a ‘Treasury’ Prime Minister, with unfinished business from her Home Secretary tenure such scrapping the Human Rights act.
The second, is known as the Shock Doctrine (see Naomi Klein’s book of the same name): political and economic chaos will allow for a massive grab of the means to make money by the richest and most established figures. It isn’t that the government can’t control the economic outcomes of Brexit, its that it doesn’t want to. Its constituent members will get richer, the Germans will be blamed, and the working class will pay the price.
As well as breaking the inevitability, anything that attacks the governments plans to Leave is worth doing (again, we must ‘throw uncertainty into the equation’). Any campaign to maintain workers rights or environmental protections can contribute to delays. We’ve seen this with trade agreements like TTIP – buy yourselves time and you can make the deal even more unpopular. The more the government is forced to reveal its ‘Hand’, the more that hand will be shown to be against the interests of the Working Class. The softer the Brexit we demand, the harder it will be for the government to pursue it. With TTIP, we fought against the ‘private courts’ clause (ISDS), against forced privatisation and against lowering workplace, product safety and environmental standards, and once we’d won the case for each of them, there was no TTIP left for the neo-liberals to back.
Finally, we must reach for some of the arguments that were forgotten in the campaign. Never once, despite reading various Trade Union issued materials, did I read about the ordinary working class people of Britain having more in common with their German, French, Polish, etc. equals than with the wealthy of Britain. Instead, xenophobia (hating our European neighbours) is as rife as racism (hating people from outside Europe), and an ugly tinge of nativism has crept into a lot of Left-wing rhetoric (whereby British Jobs For British Workers is moderated only by the acceptance that black British workers are the equals of White British workers).
I have said that we cannot stop Brexit if we simply accept it as inevitable, and that drawing attention to, and even adding to, the confusion around Brexit could delay Article 50 until it is no longer politically possible. But there are some ways in which anti-Brexit efforts do not need to prevent Article 50 to be successful. The best example would be this: If we do things that ultimately strengthen relationships between the working class across Europe, then we will help heal the rifts the referendum has caused, no matter what the outcome of our institutional relationship to the EU may be. And given the history of Europe, anything that builds towards a more peaceful relationship across the continent is worth pursuing.