Brexit is our opportunity to reshape Britain
Trade Unionists Against the EU’s FAWZI IBRAHIM gives his take on what’s up for grabs during the government’s Brexit negotiations
BREXIT has opened up opportunities for workers to shape their future and the future of the UK.
Such opportunities are very rare. They come but once in a lifetime. The last time such an opportunity presented itself was at the end of World War II.
On that occasion, the people created the welfare state, the NHS, social housing and the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. This time, let’s aim even higher.
Never before had the British people given such a clear instruction to a government to pursue a specific course of action as they did on June 23 2016.
The government had no choice but to heed this unequivocal instruction to leave the EU, to leave in a clean break and not some half-way house, a fake Brexit in which we remain subservient to the EU’s core institutions including the single market and its equally neoliberal Customs Union.
With “Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May made it plain that her government will carry out the settled will of the people.
The fact that she was officially on the Remain side during the campaign and had spoken of the threats to the economy of leaving the EU to a Goldman Sachs meeting of investors before the referendum is irrelevant; if anything, it’s a testament to the depth and maturity of British democracy. The 80 per cent vote in favour of triggering Article 50 by the end of March by our parliamentarians who only a few months previously voted Remain by the very same majority is another testament to the strength of our democracy and the power workers can exert. MPs and governments are not elected to fulfil their own desires or satisfy their personal foibles, but to carry out the instructions of the people that elected them.
The referendum vote was also an instruction to the leadership of all trade unions to accept the settled view of workers and move on from the referendum debate. Generally this has been the case as more and more trade unions ditch their attachment to the free movement of labour and embrace Brexit.
Although Labour accepted the decision to leave the EU and whipped its MPs to support invoking Article 50 by the end of March, it nonetheless joined forces with those who are demanding the government state its negotiating priorities. Such a demand is both disingenuous and dangerous. It is disingenuous because its real purpose is to derail our exit. It is dangerous because it weakens the hand of the government as it goes into negotiations with the EU. As any negotiator knows, the one thing you don’t do is give away your priorities and tactics in advance.
Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to derail Brexit by her contention that “the Scottish people voted for Scotland to remain in the EU” is fatuous. The referendum was for Britain as a whole and not whether any individual nation within it wished to stay or leave the EU. Equally questionable is her contention that by voting for the UK to remain in the EU and having failed to convince the rest of the country to do the same, Scottish people would want to leave the UK and join the EU. If four of five friends on a night out decide to go to a restaurant and a fifth expressed a wish to go clubbing, it does not follow that the person who disagreed would wish to go to a night club had she been on her own, let alone leave her friends and go to the club by herself. So it is with the EU referendum.
If Sturgeon calls a referendum on Scottish independence on the basis of joining the EU, it may very well prove her undoing. By the time the issue arises in two or three years time, countries would be queuing to leave a fractured, crisis-ridden EU rather than new ones eager to join, unless, that is, the Scottish people want Edinburgh to be the Athens of the north in more than one sense.
The Brexit vote was a rejection of neoliberalism as embodied by the single market and its four freedoms of movement.
This is the spirit of 2016, as powerful and all embracing as the spirit of 1945, which if seized could enable us to transform our economy.
Any shilly-shallying, any wavering will leave space for anti-working class organisations to divide and divert. The trade unions are uniquely placed to define this transformation.
With their extensive knowledge and expertise, trade unions should debate and formulate the policies necessary to re-orientate the economy towards a post-capitalist future. It is not a question of changing governments; it is a question of re-building Britain whichever government happens to occupy Downing Street.
Letter in response to the above, sent to the Morning Star on December 29 2016:
On reading Fawzi Ibrahim’s paean to the May/Farage approach to Brexit (M Star December 29) I thought, for a moment, that this paper’s policy of wide-ranging debate had been extended to Daily Mail leader writers.
Here’s what Ibrahim called for:
“A clean break and not some half-way house”: ie leaving the single market, which Unite says would cost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
“Trade unions (must) ditch their attachment to free movement of labour and embrace Brexit”: ie unions must support tighter immigration controls – which, thankfully Unite and other progressive unions are resisting.
And here’s his attack on Corbyn’s Labour Party:
“Labour (was wrong in) demanding the government state its negotiating priorities … because it weakens the hand of the government”: ie full support to Theresa May in refusing parliamentary scrutiny!
But then I realised, this bizarre article couldn’t be written by someone from the Daily Mail, because that paper is realistic enough to understand that Brexit cannot, under any circumstances “re-orientate the economy towards a post capitalist future”! Only a delusional fantasist would expect that.