Notes from the front of 17-10-2017
No progress in EU negotiations as Tory infighting escalates
On Monday 16 October Prime Minister Theresa May travelled to Brussels for emergency talks with the European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. The trip was a failure as her demand, that the EU-27 open talks on a transition deal, was rejected and will continue to be until the negotiations on Britain leaving the EU make progress.
The Tory cabinet and parliamentary party are bitterly divided over what the government’s orientation towards the current negotiations should be. One side wants to remain in the Single Market so is prepared to reach necessary agreements with the EU-27, the other side is content to leave this market so unwilling to negotiate seriously and talks loosely about negotiations failing and this resulting in ‘no-deal’.
The chancellor Philip Hammond is accused of being a traitor and has been urged to resign, whilst the foreign secretary Boris Johnson is rebuked for demanding hard-Brexit red lines. Planned parliamentary rebellions involving Tory MPs have forced Theresa May to delay the introduction of her flagship EU withdrawal bill.
This Tory division has resulted in the government not having a coherent policy. Either a European country is inside the Single Market and therefore bound by its rules, or it is outside it. It is not possible to leave the market and maintain the same access to its trade and capital. The approach the Tory government is currently pursuing, of ‘have your cake and eat it’ is not available.
A Britain that has left the EU will still have the EU as its most important trading partner. So maintaining the current level of access to the Single Market is the fundamental economic issue the government still has to resolve.
Outside the Single Market Britain would be in a weak position to negotiate trade deals, including with the EU. And without such deals, under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, British exporters will face the EU’s Common Customs Tariff. These are an array of taxes on imports into the EU, that range from 0 per cent to as high as 45 per cent depending on the product, with an average tariff of 4.8 per cent. Also any tariffs Britain introduces will increase prices for British consumers. Current supply chains for manufacturing would be disrupted by the tariff and non-tariff barriers introduced after leaving the market.
Theresa May is conducting negotiations with the EU-27 as if Britain was in a strong position. She has threatened a damaging no-deal, for which Britain is not prepared, in what is clearly a risky bluff. Then she has engaged in demagogic PR, a conciliatory tone – as in her Florence speech in September – but not matched with proposals at the negotiating table. As a result little progress has been made on the three issues the EU-27 insist on reaching agreement on – the financial settlement or ‘divorce bill’, the status of EU nationals and their rights and Ireland.
May has only offered to pay one third of the commitments the EU-27 say the UK was party to agreeing and her negotiators have not even engaged with discussing the UK’s share of responsibility for liabilities that fall due after 2020.
There is an impasse over EU citizens’ rights due to the Tories’ anti-immigrant agenda. Plus no progress is being made on an invisible border within Ireland. This is because, if Britain leaves the Single Market, there is no solution that does not introduce a customs border either between the Republic and the six counties in the North or between the whole island of Ireland and Britain.
May and other leading Tories are now unwilling to say how they would vote if there was another referendum on EU membership.
Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, when asked how he would vote if a new referendum were held tomorrow, recently replied: ‘There isn’t going to be another referendum, so it’s a hypothetical question but yes, I voted remain because I thought the best option was to remain. I haven’t changed my mind on that.’ ‘But we accept the result of the referendum therefore we want to make sure we obtain tariff-free access to the European markets and protection of all the rights and membership of agencies we have achieved through the European Union membership.’
John McDonnell has made clear that Labour will not countenance a no-deal outcome where the UK reverts to WTO rules ‘because the damage to the economy will be so great’. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘I don’t think there’s a majority for no deal. I think on a cross-party basis you’ll see in the debates in the coming week — the government will get the message, there will be a deal.’ ‘When we amend the legislation, which I think we will, I think there’s a majority to do that, to have a meaningful vote’.
The Tories face increased electoral pressure as they plan to intensify austerity in response to the government’s worsening fiscal position. Plus their infighting over the negotiations with the EU-27 will intensify as their incoherence and contradictory positions become increasingly revealed.
Far right exploiting terrorism to build racist street movement
Following terrorist attacks in Britain earlier this year, in Westminster (March), Manchester (May), London Bridge (June) and Parsons Green (September), the far right is building a new Islamophobic street movement. Calling itself the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), this has now mobilised for demonstrations in London on 24 June and 7 October, both of which were several thousand strong.
At its core the FLA is an extreme racist movement, similar to the English Defence League (EDL). It plays down its close links to the street violence of the EDL and British National Party (BNP). It is being promoted sympathetically by sections of Britain’s tabloid press, which report its official propaganda against terrorism – the hook it uses for its street mobilisations – but ignore its ties to the extreme right and its wider agenda of racism, Islamophobia, opposition to immigration, patriotism and nationalism.
Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) activists have condemned the FLA’s links to far right violent extremists. In early October Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and others signed a statement expressing concerns about the FLA. On 7 October SUTR activists unfurled their anti-racist banners on Whitehall in London as the FLA marched down the road on its most recent demonstration.
This Saturday’s Stand Up To Racism conference will provide an opportunity to discuss how to counter the racist offensive. Progressive people who support equality are encouraged to attend. It will take place from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Saturday 21 October, at Friends Meeting House London NW1. Book here.