Johnson’s Brexit policy is not only an attack on working people but on the planet

By Brian Adams

Merely a few days after his election victory Johnson has already made crystal clear what ‘Get Brexit done’ means. The section of his rapidly spelt out agenda which attracted immediate left-wing media attention is the assault on working class rights in Britain. But considered internationally deeply threatening is that Johnson is adding Britain to Trump’s US, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Saudi Arabia and other forces in a policy heading to climate catastrophe. With Britain as the chair of next year’s COP26 conference on climate change in Glasgow Johnson will have unusual leverage in this discussion – this leverage will be thrown on the side of Trump and reaction.

But it is crucial to understand that the reactionary international initiatives of Johnson on climate change and other issues are not separate from his right-wing domestic agenda. They are united by his central project of Brexit – which is the thorough going subordination of Britain to the US and the ‘Americanisation’ of British society.

Johnson’s reactionary domestic agenda

The reactionary domestic meaning of Johnson’s government agenda was clearly spelt out within a few hours of his electoral victory. The facts domestically are that merely in the first days of Johnson’s government:

  • The pledge to keep workers entitlements and rights up to at least EU standards has been discarded.
  • All out strikes in public transport and other services are to be banned.
  • The pledge to raise the minimum wage was dropped.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on holiday entitlements.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on sick leave.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Ways are to be sought to limit the right of the courts to limit government actions.
  • Just to symbolise the viciousness of what is to come, even Lord Dubs amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to continue to give refugee children sanctuary post-Brexit has been dumped.

Brexit is essential to carry out these measures because most of them would have been illegal under EU law – a fact which reflects not that the EU is a progressive institution but the social relation of forces across the EU as a whole. Therefore, Britain had to be got out of the EU to implement these reactionary attacks on the working class and oppressed.

There is not the slightest doubt these are just the beginning of many reactionary domestic measures to come as the entire project of Brexit is to move Britain in the direction of the ‘Americanisation’ of society. That is, to deregulate the labour market, to remove protection at work, to eliminate environmental protection and by these means to sharply increase the rate of exploitation of the working class.

These measures will, of course, fall most heavily on the most deprived parts of the country – Johnson’s claim he will develop a ‘Northern powerhouse’ to aid that part of the country is a pure lie.

Furthermore, contrary to what Johnson claims, Brexit is not at all ‘done’ and its consequences will continue to be central in Britain. The general election guarantees Britain will leave the political structures of the EU, but to get his trade deal with US Johnson now faces a year of negotiation with the EU to get Britain out of regulatory alignment with the EU. But if that occurs Britain will not have tariff and quota free access to the EU, with devastating consequences for pharmaceuticals, automobiles and other advanced parts of the British economy and the millions of well paid jobs that directly and indirectly rely on these.

And, to divert attention from the attacks to come, there Is not the slightest doubt what Johnson will do. He, and the Tory media, will launch a vicious wave of racism to divert attention from who is really causing these attacks on living standards.

Johnson’s reactionary role on climate catastrophe

While the Brexit measures Johnson has already announced on domestic policy are deeply reactionary, as almost everyone on the left and even parts of the liberal media have immediately pointed out, the international dimension of this attack, and its connection to the domestic one, is not yet so widely understood. It is crucial to do so.

Johnson was openly supported by Trump to become prime minister and in the general election campaign. Johnson’s most important international economic policy is to sign a trade deal with the US. Indeed, as a key Johnson policy is to reject being part of a customs union with the EU, which is necessary in order to ensure the subordination of Britain to the US, a US trade deal is his only serious international economic policy. And the terms Trump will want for any trade deal are obvious – lowering of British social and environmental standards, the opening up of the NHS to US drugs companies, and deregulation of the British economy.

But Trump has an equally clear policy on climate catastrophe. The only rapidly growing part of US industry is fracking and fossil fuel production. Trump’s opposition to any attempt to head off climate catastrophe therefore is not incidental but central to his entire policy.

Trump’s policies are consequently driving the planet towards a literal climate catastrophe. If the increase in average global temperatures is not constrained below 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial revolution levels, humanity faces a literal disaster. Many tens of millions, at a minimum, will die over the coming decades as a result of climate change – and the long term consequences will be even worse. So called ‘natural’ disasters, but in reality human made ones via the effects on the climate – famines, fires, flooding, rendering of parts of the planet uninhabitable for humans, heat deaths and many other results– will steadily multiply.

Until recently, although the measures taken at the Paris agreement on climate change were inadequate, they at least pointed in a positive direction. But in order to protect the rapid growth of fracking and fossil fuel production in the US Trump is prepared to overtly defy international public opinion by withdrawal from the Paris climate change process. This opinion, and the relation of forces in other countries, has so far blocked other right wing governments from withdrawing from the Paris agreement. But to attempt to buttress the reactionary carrying through of Trump’s policy heading towards climate catastrophe he is quite overtly forming an international alliance of climate change deniers such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Saudi Arabia and others.

Johnson, Trump’s closest ally in Europe, will now of course be added to that list. As Britain is the chair of next year’s COP26 conference on climate change in Glasgow, Johnson will be able to play a particularly direct role for Trump in sabotaging any progress in fighting climate catastrophe.

Of course, this reactionary policy will extend to issues other international issues than climate change – we may be sure that Britain will be a cheerleader for reactionary US imperialist actions in various parts of the world.

But it is crucial for the left to understand, therefore, that Johnson’s right wing domestic policy and his reactionary international agenda on climate change are not separate or merely running in parallel. They are entirely interconnected. The fight against Johnson’s right wing domestic and his reactionary policies on climate change are therefore equally interconnected.

After defeats there is pressure to retreat and to accept the offensive of the right. This happened after Thatcher’s victory in 1979 and after the Tory-led Coalition imposed austerity in 2010. Forces on the Labour right and centre argued that it would be unpopular to oppose attacks on workers, the poor and oppressed, or a reactionary international agenda, and so went along with them. That cannot be allowed to happen once again because, in an interconnected way, the stakes this time are even higher. They are not even simply a vicious attack on the working class and oppressed, they are quite literally the future of the planet.