After years of constitutional crisis and division, the UK left the European Union at 11pm on 31st January 2020. But while the Brexit saga has entered a new chapter, the book is far from finished. Under Boris Johnson’s deal, a temporary “transition period” will run until the end of the year. It will maintain EU rules that block state intervention into the economy and wholesale re-nationalisation of privatised industries.
Although Johnson promised to “get Brexit done”, life is much more complicated. During this transition period, the UK stays in the EU’s single market and customs union, but will no longer be part of the European Parliament or Council. There is still the tricky matter of the future Free Trade Agreement to negotiate, with the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, already warning that it will be impossible to reach a comprehensive trade deal by the end of 2020, as Johnson demands.
Tory divisions can open up
The recent cabinet reshuffle reflects a significant strengthening of the posItion of the cabal around Boris Johnson, but while the Tories now have a strong majority and a parliamentary party that seems more unified at this point, new divisions can and are likely to appear in the course of the next stage of the negotiations. There can be fault lines between those Tory Brexiteers who dream of further deregulating the economy and turn the City of London into a new ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ and those MPs elected from the north of England, who are under pressure to call for more protectionist measures to boost growth in a region decimated by decades of deindustrialisation.
Tory propaganda boasts that we will now see a new period of growth and stability, with the now former Chancellor saying that will see growth like the “post-war glory days.” The reality is that the clouds of a new world recession are gathering and the UK will be far from immune from this, with the Bank of England consistently warning of the risk of the Brexit process tipping the UK into recession
Freedom of movement
A complicated question for the Tories will be ‘freedom of movement’. The Tories, while conceding the right of residence for current EU nationals living in the UK, have made clear that the doors will be slammed shut on ‘low-skilled’ workers arriving from Europe after December. As well as being an attack on low-paid immigrant workers, it is also a problem for large sections of British business who rely on this workforce.
Northern Ireland – no hard borders
Alongside this, of course, is the massive problem posed here in Northern Ireland regarding Brexit and borders. The Socialist Party is implacably opposed to the bosses’ club that is the European Union, which has driven attacks on working-class people. That does not mean we support the Tory Brexit model, which can be used to undermine living standards and rights, as well as foster division. We oppose any hardening of borders, either North/South or East/West.
A key problem in the Brexit process has been the lack of a strong, socialist force with a programme capable of cutting through the false polarisation that has been created, uniting working-class Leave and Remain voters around a vision of a socialist exit from the EU which would safeguard jobs, living standards and rights while breaking from the EU’s pro-capitalist rules. In our view, important lessons in this regard must be learned by the labour and trade union movement to ensure it is best equipped to fight for workers and young people in the years to come.