Theresa May, Theresa Might, Theresa Can’t … The Brexit Boogie


“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity (Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919).”

It was a week of massive excitement with little change. It started with a ruling from the European Court of Justice that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 without the support or permission of the other members of the EU; this removes a major obstacle if May’s deal is defeated, the government falls or the possibility of another referendum comes to fruition.

As the country settled in this past Tuesday to watch the vote in Parliament on  May’s  deal, it became obvious to our increasingly perplexed Prime Minister what everyone else already knew; she didn’t have the votes to get her divorce deal through. Either the PM did poorly in maths at school or she had become detached from reality.

She was unable to understand that there was no chance of this in the absence of a united Tory party (and they are anything but united) and without the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who view this deal as a betrayal. They are really pissed off that Northern Ireland is being treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, aka the Irish Backstop. (On the other hand the Scottish National Party (SNP) would sell their souls for Scotland to be treated thusly as part of this deal). Even if a few Labour MPs and a Liberal Democrat or 2 supported her, the numbers just simply were not there and rumours abounded that the defeat would be in triple figures.

Rather than put her deal to a vote, the PM cancelled that vote and ran off to meet with other leaders of the EU on the pretext of getting some “clarification” from both European governments and the EU itself on the backstop. May travelled around Europe stopping for meals in the Netherlands (a sympathetic Mark Rutte would help she thought; nope), Germany (where she couldn’t get out of the car, ruining a photo opportunity with Angela Merkel; again a resounding no), and the planned EU summit which was not supposed to discuss Brexit changed its agenda to do so (and still no joy.)

To say that Parliament was not amused by her cancelling the vote following days of debate is an understatement. Whether there would be a meaningful vote on her deal; whether it was postponed or cancelled needed clarification. She has an amazing ability to never answer a question directly. She claimed  during Prime Minister’s Question Time that a meaningful vote had already been taken; referring to the referendum itself. But it now seems Parliament will get a say sometime in January.

While obviously Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems were furious, some members of her own party were also irritated. The accusation (once again) of contempt of Parliament echoed across Parliament from the right of the Tory Party through Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens.

Continuing the scheduled debate in her absence and with the SNP and the Lib Dems pushing Labour to call a vote of No Confidence in the hopes of bringing down the government; the Tories moved first. Just as she was planning on heading over for breakfast in Ireland with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar,  a call comes from Graham Brady (head of the 1922 Committee) telling her that 48 letters of No Confidence had been submitted to him. This meant that a vote of No Confidence in her leadership of the Tory Party had to be scheduled  and was in fact set for that very evening.

May had to fight to maintain her leadership. To garner support, she stated she will not lead the Tory Party into the next general elections (scheduled for May 5th 2022) thereby ensuring that she has even less power than before. She is officially a lame-duck Prime Minister.

Amidst all the plotting and speculation of who is interested in the poisoned chalice of leading the Tory Party and carrying out Brexit, May introduces another possibility to her mantra of “either my deal or no deal” (i.e., crashing out of the EU) that is, not getting Brexit.

It became obvious that even if she won the Tory vote of no confidence, the situation will not change at all; given her red lines (which include non-membership of the Single Market and not staying in the EU Customs Union), this is actually the best deal that she could obtain.

Defeating the Tory No Confidence vote by 200-117, May heads off to the EU Summit to once again ask for ”clarification” and some “legal” guarantees from the EU that the Irish Backstop will only be temporary and that trade negotiations would continue irrespective of the backstop coming into force.

All this drama is to no avail, as the EU cannot offer legal guarantees without changing the divorce deal (which they will not do); moreover, and let’s be real, Jean-Claude Juncker is correct, no one understands clearly what she is asking for. Nebulous and imprecise is him being really polite. The EU states the obvious, the deal is the deal and getting it through her party and Parliament is her problem not theirs.

So where does this leave the Tories?

While everyone is wondering what the hell is Theresa May up to, the answer is just speculation.  Jo Johnson (brother of Boris and a Remain Tory MP who resigned from the Government over the Brexit deal in November and has called for a second referendum) thinks that she is stalling the vote, hoping that it will leave things too late to change forcing the issue of her deal or no deal.

The Tories have essentially 4 choices:

  • Theresa May’s Brexit Deal (they do not have the votes for this);
  • No Deal or its variant of going out of the EU and immediately getting taken on WTO rules.This is plan A of the Hard Brexiteers However, it also does not have the votes. There are at most 40 Tory hard Brexiteers that support it. An attempt will certainly be made across parties to vote against it as most MPs agree that this is not in the best interests of the UK;
  • Revoke Article 50 hoping to get another deal under another Tory leader (but the defeat of the No Confidence Vote gives May another year as leader). An extension of Article 50 would require assent from the other members of the EU;
  • Another referendum (which is opposed by May and the Brexiteers) in which remain will be an option.

The additional possibility (spoken of by some MPs across parties) of a soft Brexit on a Norway plus model in the EFTA (European free trade association) or being in the EEA (European Economic Area) has already been rejected by Norway as they do not want to be dominated by the UK (it is a small group of small countries) and accepting the four freedoms which the Tories reject.

Heidi Nordby Lunde, a conservative Norwegian politician, made this telling comment:

“The UK seems to be considering joining our EFTA family as a temporary solution – Norway for now – until it gets a better deal. It really surprises me that anyone would think Norwegians would find that appealing. It would be like inviting the rowdy uncle to a Christmas party, spiking the drinks and hoping that things go well. They would not.”

What about Labour?

Labour is caught in a bit of a bind. While two-thirds of Labour’s members support Remain, there are members that support Brexit. Moreover, in many traditional Labour voting areas in the North East and North West of England and in Wales, Brexit was victorious. How do you hold onto these seats in a general election and not offer Brexit?

This vote in former industrial and manufacturing areas does not reflect a class conscious working class vote acting as a class in itself for itself .  These voters have fallen prey to the right-wing media and the politics of divide and rule.

But the Brexit vote has happened, how  can this be addressed or even overturned democratically? It cannot be done by the Parliament itself; it requires a democratic vote by the population. Equally important, cogent economic policies must be set out which offer support to these people; abandoned by New Labour and treated as irrelevant by the Tories.

The 6 tests have been useful; they prevent LP support of any Tory Brexit given the red lines established by May and in the Tory Manifesto. But they are not a plan in and of themselves.

While the tactic of standing by and letting the Tory Party implode has served Corbyn well up until now, we are heading towards crunch time. If Corbyn and McDonnell make the correct decision, they will win and win big. If they make the wrong choice, it may spell the end of the left in control of the leadership of the LP, the resurgence of the Labour right and a Tory victory in the next general election.

The LP is under pressure from the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens to call a vote of No Confidence in the hopes of bringing down May’s government.

But even though 117 Tory MPs voted that they had no confidence in May’s leadership of the Tory Party, it is quite another thing to get them to vote  to bring down a Tory government. They are worried that Labour Party under Corbyn would win a general election deriving out of a vote of No Confidence if a government could not be formed or a motion for a vote of confidence fails.

That is probably why they moved to bring her down internally in the hope of replacing her with a Brexiteer. May’s own problems with the EU are free movement of labour – single market — and the European Courts having a say over Britain – rather than being members of the EU itself.

Moreover, the DUP have said they will vote against her deal but not against a Tory government. In fact even with DUP support, Labour could not win a vote of no confidence unless Tories vote with them. The Tory right will not do so – they actually view the Labour Left as dangerous Marxists. It is questionable whether the Tory Remainers will as they also want to see a Labour government in power like they want an outbreak of the plague.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (2011, another present of the Con-Dem coalition), an early general election can only be called by a vote by two-thirds of MPs or if a vote of no confidence is passed.

In both cases, without Tory support for either method, there are insufficient numbers in Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid, and the Greens. (Sinn Fein does not take up its 7 seats),. This means that the 10 seats of the DUP are irrelevant in the first scenario (they won’t have enough votes) and see the above problem on a vote of no confidence. Given their politics, what are the probabilities that they will vote to bring down the Tories?

These parties can call a vote of no confidence, but what will it do except to express discontent if they cannot get it through? It now seems that the Labour Party is waiting until May’s deal fails as that would be a good time to do so, but will they have the votes even then?

What else can Labour do?

Labour has been arguing for a general election; but even then, there is no way that they could ignore the issue of Brexit in their manifesto. Reversing austerity and putting progressive economic proposals forward is essential to defeat the Tories; but what will they say on Brexit? What will they propose?

The Labour leadership say they want to negotiate a better Brexit. Is that possible? They don’t have the same red lines as Theresa May, but they say they want managed migration which conflicts with the Single Market’s free movement of labour and capital.  The EU will probably refuse to budge on  this it is integral to the way they operate. Certainly they wouldn’t allow the UK something they don’t have.  This could open up a bigger debate in the EU, but this would have a reactionary dynamic based on a racist agenda.

Agreeing to stay in the EU customs union would eliminate the need for an Irish backstop that has undermined May’s Brexit deal, but is that a good deal for the working class in Britain? We have already noted that Norway will oppose the UK being part of EFTA/EEA, so a Norway plus model (supported by Labour’s Stephen Kinnock for example) will not fly either.

Alternatively, the Labour leadership could take control over the Remain “movement” and call for a second referendum on May’s deal, no deal and remaining in the EU. They could alternatively propose a second referendum as part of their manifesto asking for a mandate on a new negotiated deal by Labour. In both cases, a democratic vote would be addressed by a democratic vote.

I would argue that 16 year olds, who will be deepy affected by Brexit should be able to vote along with European residents in Britain.

Many who voted last time were unclear what Brexit meant; given the negotiated deal it is now clearer what will happen if/when the UK leaves the EU.

Whatever the Labour leadership decides, time is running out. Austerity continues to act on the lives of the British working class, wages are still below 2007 levels, working conditions have deteriorated, the NHS is in crisis, and Universal Credit must be defeated and a system of social security based on recognition of human dignity of benefit claimants must replace it. With all eyes on Brexit, the political and economic situation for working class Britons continues to deteriorate. If we want a government for the many and not the few, hard decisions need to be made.

This is a slightly edited version of an article by NY Brit expat on Daily Kos

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