Loud voices among the Tories are pushing for a “hard Brexit”. They want to slam the door on migrants from Europe and make things difficult for migrant workers already here.
The Tories are divided. Most of big business want to stay in the EU’s “single market”, so that they do not face tariffs or complicated juggling with forms and regulation when trading with the EU. They want to keep “passporting” rights for UK-based banks to trade across the EU. They know they won’t get that without continuing freedom of movement for workers, but they don’t mind that, or they positively welcome a bigger pool of labour. The Tories’ difficulties are our opportunity. Our priorities are different.
Our first concern is the solidarity and unity of workers across borders, and so for security for migrants here and for freedom of movement both for their friends, families, compatriots, and for British-born people who want to work, study, or live elsewhere in Europe. It is for opening the doors so that the refugees currently stacked in Calais, soon to be dispersed across France by water-cannon and bulldozers, can come here. The Brexit vote has boosted the most narrow-minded so that even after the UK promised to take in child refugees fully qualified to come here, the government delayed month after month before admitting a first meagre few, only 14, on 17 October.
The disputes among the Tories and big business and economic links give us an opening to push back. It is even possible that the Tories will be so unable to cut a workable deal with the EU that Brexit is eventually rescinded. The Sunday Times on 16 October published a previously-hidden article that leading Tory Brexiter Boris Johnson wrote just before the referendum started — an article opposing Brexit! Johnson went for Brexit just to boost his career. He expected Brexit to lose, but the referendum campaign to establish him as a figure who could claim a top government job after he “gallantly” (in fact, relievedly) “accepted” an anti-Brexit vote.
Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Albania, Singapore — the Brexiters never made clear, and mostly didn’t know, what their model for Britain-after-Brexit was. They claimed it would be easy to cut a new deal with the EU. Yet the Canada-EU trade deal, much less fraught, and negotiated since 2008, is now stalled, maybe sunk, because Belgium has rejected it, and it needs unanimous approval by EU states, Their posters and campaign buses promised £350 million a week more for the NHS after Brexit, from money no longer going to EU contributions. The promise has vanished. The government has hinted that it may still pay into the EU budget after Brexit in order to get trade concessions. They blamed migrants for the social problems caused by Tory cuts and curbs on council housing. The worst-hit areas, which voted heavily for Brexit, actually have fewest migrants.
The Brexit vote on 23 June set off a 41% increase in racial and religious hate crime in July 2016 (over June 2016). Official figures for August, published on 13 October, show a rate still much higher than previous years.
There was one valid idea behind the Brexit votes: that control over economic life has shifted further from ground level.
Capitalist economic life is always controlled by a small minority: bosses, bankers, top government officials. But the feeling that the centres of control are even further away, even more difficult at least to constrain, has a real basis. World market forces, including the rapid forces of the global financial markets, dominate more. The chief economic criterion for governments has become making their territories attractive as perches for global capital. Brexit is no answer.
Smaller economic units — Britain, as compared to the EU — are even more subordinate to markets and global capital than larger. The EU has been willing to demand €13 billion back-taxes for Ireland from Apple, but the idea so scares Ireland that it has appealed against the ruling.
The only answer is solidarity and unity of workers across the largest expanses possible, both to check and constrain global capital, and then to replace it by social and economic cooperation and equalisation across borders. As the Tories’ conflicts develop, the labour movement can and should push back, to minimise, to block, to reverse the re-raising of barriers.