British parliament inept and paralysed in Brexit farce

Michael Roth, Germany’s Europe minister, recently called Brexit a “big shitshow”.

The show continues with no end in sight after British Tory Prime Minister Theresa May failed at her third attempt to pass her Brexit plan through the British Parliament.

It’s clear the government has no majority in parliament and is completely at sea over the issue. The British political system has been exposed as paralysed and inept.

The root of this crisis was the initial Brexit referendum vote in 2016 that delivered an outcome rejecting the effort of the British establishment to remain in the EU.

The referendum was one of the few times big business did not get their way. Companies in Britain overwhelmingly want to remain part of the EU.

But they have managed to push May into a Brexit plan designed to maintain British access to the EU market.

This guarantees profits for corporations. It would end “free movement” of people from the EU and put in doubt the rights of EU migrants currently living in the UK.

The Tories are usually the party of big business. Unfortunately for May, a large number of Tory MPs are believers in the fantasy that Brexit could see Britain re-claim its past power and economic strength and strike out more on its own independently of the EU.

Her motion lost by 286 votes to 344, a majority against of 58. Most Labour MPs, the conservative Democratic Unionist Party and dozens of Tories from her own party voted against it.

Then the farce deepened. After May’s failure, parliament took control out of her hands in an effort to find another form of Brexit that had sufficient support.

This led to two efforts at “indicative votes” in parliament, to test whether there was any likelihood parliament could make a decision.

But parliament rejected all the options—from a no deal Brexit to a softer form of Brexit retaining a closer relationship with the EU.

The motion that received the most support was for a customs union with the EU. This would mean accepting the EU’s trade rules, but would limit Britain’s capacity to strike separate free trade deals outside it.

A close second was the option of a second referendum to seek public approval of whatever Brexit option parliament backs.

Labour’s mistake

May has now entered talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an effort to find a compromise. It is difficult to predict what will happen next.

Another delay to the deadline for Britain to leave the EU has now been granted until 31 October. This means Britain would be forced to hold EU elections on 23 May, delivering a gift to the far right who would run on the claim of a Brexit betrayal.

It is clear now that there is general disgust at the complete crisis of May, of the Tories and of British politics.

This crisis is a big missed opportunity for Corbyn, the Labour Party and the left.

It was a big mistake for Corbyn to back down on freedom of movement in the UK.

Corbyn has been tied to the Labour strategy of being a respectable parliamentary party. He has backed the two main big business demands for a customs union and full access to the EU market.

The core of the vote for Brexit was opposition to institutions of neo-liberalism like the EU. It has overseen decades of cuts to public services and widespread privatisation.

Corbyn should put forward demands that pull working class support to Labour, such as opposition to the single market, nationalization and defence of NHS.

The left needs to both oppose the EU and argue to open the borders. This means fighting to open fortress Europe, where the outer border with the Mediterranean is becoming a mass grave for refugees.

Corbyn’s backdown on the right of freedom of movement in the EU gives space to racists.

The danger was evident when the far-right and fascists mobilised outside parliament as May’s motion was put to the vote.

They want to take advantage of the undemocratic farce of a second referendum and build their racist offensive against migrants.

As the Brexit crisis continues for the top of society, the working class and left need to mobilise around an alternative of no to the EU and neo-liberalism, funding for social services and breaking the walls of Fortress Europe.

By Feiyi Zhang


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