The Tories have successfully used their propaganda machine to create a nation so divided it is on the brink of civil war. I cannot remember a time when our nation has been so divided. The British and European affair began as long ago as 1971, when Prime Minister Edward Heath signed the UK up as members of Common Market of Europe. There was no referendum initially, and Heath’s argument was that it was a trade deal and would not affect the UK autonomy or democratic voice, yet Heath knew that it would evolve to be more than a free-trading market, but politically he knew in this case honesty was not the best policy.
This came into question and Labour politicians as different as leader Hugh Gaitskell and Tony Benn based their opposition to this European project on sound principles of sovereignty and democracy. Gaitskell famously told the 1962 Labour conference that joining the Common Market “would be the end of Britain as an independent European state” and Tony Benn, referring to the European commission, argued that if we can’t “get rid of you, we don’t have a democracy”.
The long struggle of trade unions who had negotiated rights for workers for generations were under threat, and when Labour regained power, it was Harold Wilson who decided such an issue of constitutional importance should have been put to the people, and so there was a referendum on the Common Market membership.
‘From the beginning we knew we were joining more than just a free trade area. We realised that if the French wanted us in to counterbalance the Germans and the Germans wanted us in to counterbalance the French, it was important that we should play a strong political role. There was a general feeling that we were signing up to a European union and would have to contribute to it, which is in some respects what we failed to do afterwards’
Wilson himself, remained neutral and withheld the whip so that Labour MPs were able to present both sides of the argument, and the UK decided to stay in the Common Market.The result of the 1975 referendum was a landslide. On a 64.5 per cent turnout, more than two-thirds of voters opted to stay in. Every part of the United Kingdom voted for membership, save only for Shetland and the Western Isles, the electoral district which includes the Hebrides.
Following the Wilson and Callaghan governments, the unions became under attack. Thatcher’s attacks on the trade unions, the hard won rights of working people, destruction of British industry, privatisation of utilities, energy, water, transport, and more recently of public services such as NHS, care of the elderly and education left the working class poorer, and poverty was at Victorian levels.
Tony Benn was a famous Eurosceptic. He told biographer Jad Adams that as a minister he “was a slave in chains in Brussels, and I loathed it when I saw what it was about.”Benn continued with the argument for the rest of his life, posing five questions:
- “What power have you got?”
- “Where did you get it from?”
- “In whose interests do you use it?”
- “To whom are you accountable?”
- “How do we get rid of you?”
Many on the Left have continued to argue for greater autonomy and for democracy, but there has been a decline in the effectiveness of trade unionism, and no socialist government. Meanwhile, all our people can see is dependence on food banks, homelessness, unemployment, and deprivation. Plans for renationalisation of the railways and utilities are popular policies, but it is concerning that the anti-socialist policies of the EU, the anti-monopoly laws would prevent socialist Labour renationalising British Rail, for example.
Meanwhile, the majority of Tories are happy enjoying the deregulated free trade within the EU, and unlike poor Greece who had given up their currency to join the Eurozone, to some degree the UK was insulated from the threat and straitjacket of the Euro.
Today’s EU regime & euro were the brainchild Reagan’s chief economic guide, supply-side inventor Robert Mundell—who told me his plan was to smash unions, destroy parliaments, shrink government & free the markets from the regulatory constraints of democracy.
And here comes the irony, because, as in Europe in the 1930s, following the depression, it is the right wing politicians who have used the anger from the working class. They have posed as anti-establishment and the rise of Nigel Farage and UKIP, posing with his pint of beer, as a friend of the workers, shamefully used such deprivation to his own ends. In reality, they are the Establishment; they represent the elite, and seek even more deregulation and in no way have the interests of the working people at heart.
Cameron’s government felt that holding another referendum on membership of the EU in 2016 would put paid to Nigel Farage, who threatened to split the Tory Party. And so, while defending the EU and campaigning to Remain in the EU – and expecting to win his case – the verdict of the people was asked and how surprised he was when the decision was to Leave that he resigned.
Three years later, the democratic decision has not been implemented and every day, every week passes by, people have become angrier and angrier, and the right wing threat grows even stronger and more dangerous.
Meanwhile, people opposed to the Leave decision, themselves mocked as ‘Remoaners’, campaign and march, while claiming that the EU only ever fought for workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protections, as if to imply that only Europeans can fight for these, and some way the people of Britain have lost our voice, lost our compassion and lost our minds.
What we have lost, is our solidarity, our unity our communities and our direction. We desperately need a socialist government in this country. We can’t depend on Europe to provide us with it. The right is strengthening in other areas of Europe too. We will achieve socialism by unity. A socialist government would restore workers’ rights, and set about renationalisation of public services. How can we achieve this?
We must start by stepping back from identifying as Remain or Leave. Johnson has stolen the narrative as representing the people against the establishment. But this has been achieved, not by the strength of the Left, but by our weakness and inability to defend people from the effects of Austerity. Before Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, Labour MPs were abstaining on welfare ‘reforms’.
The deal which Johnson seeks to rush through, is no deal which the Left can accept and it is worse than that which Theresa May failed to get past her own MPs.
This deal is No Left Exit designed to increase democracy and sovereignty, or benefit working people.
“The key to understanding Boris Johnson’s proposed deal is that the main economic components of the British ruling bloc – the City, big manufacturing, the advanced technology sector – want to remain in the European Union. If they cannot have that, they want as close a relationship as possible with the EU. They certainly do not want a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson, despite his bluster, also wants to avoid such an outcome, and has focused from the start on delivering a deal. This could only mean a tweaked version of Theresa May’s deal, which was rejected three times by Parliament, but voted for by Johnson himself on the bill’s final reading, when he was on the backbenches.”
Johnson’s deal gives his government increased powers without accountability, the range of which is astonishing, and analysed in this article suggesting powers at Henry VIII ‘s scale as summarised here.
WAB’s 19 Henry VIII powers
- Clause 3: supplementary power in connection with the Withdrawal Agreement
- Clause 4: powers corresponding to clause 3 involving devolved authorities
- Clause 7(1)(a) to (g): powers to make regulations providing for the deadline for applications and temporary protections in respect of the EU Settlement Scheme
- Clause 8(1) and (2): powers to make provision in regulations in respect of frontier workers
- Clause 9(1): power to provide for restrictions of rights of entry and residence
- Clause 11: power to make provision for appeals against citizens’ rights immigration decisions
- Clause 12(1): recognition of professional qualifications
- Clause 13(1): coordination of social security systems
- Clause 14: non-discrimination, equal treatment and rights of workers
- Clause 18: main power in connection with Other Separation Issues
- Clause 19: corresponding power for devolved authorities in connection with Other Separation Issues
- Clause 21: main power in connection with Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol
- Clause 22: powers corresponding to section 21 involving devolved authorities
- Clause 27: deficiencies in retained EU law: amendments to the existing correcting powers in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018
- Clause 37(4): power to amend ‘IP completion day’
- Clause 39(1) and (5): powers to make consequential provision and transitional, transitory and savings provision
- Schedule 2, paragraph 38(1) of Part 3,: power to limit the functions of, or abolish, the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA)
- Schedule 4, paragraph 4(2) of: power to amend table referred to in the definition of ‘workers’ retained EU rights’
- Schedule 6, paragraphs 5 and 69: operation of the powers to make consequential provision and transitional, transitory and savings provision in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Whatever our opinion of the EU, however we voted in the Referendums in 1975 and 2016 ( and I have voted for both out and in), this withdrawal agreement does not represent the Leave proposals of Tony Benn, and threatens to smash workers’ rights to an even greater degree than Margaret Thatcher did.
Until we learn the lesson of unity, and who is our enemy, that is the privileged elite, the ultra rich, not our neighbour who voted Leave or our cousin who voted Remain. Why, oh why are we allowing these callous, extreme right wing politicians to take our rights our democracy and, dare I say it, our Britishness, our compassion, our pride and our love for one another. Unite, reject this deal , and vote the Tories out.
Then, we can, and we will, rebuild society for the many.
United we stand, Divided we fall