With time running out for Boris Johnson’s government to reach a trade agreement with the European Union in order to avoid a “no deal” outcome, the Tories’ antics in negotiations have revealed their true intentions with regards to Brexit – and the lies they have told at every stage in the process.

Despite claiming during the 2019 election that they had an “oven-ready” deal and winning largely on the basis of their slogan, “Get Brexit Done”, the Tories have revealed that they have been, up until this point, incapable of reaching a trade agreement with EU leaders.

In a statement on 16 October, Boris Johnson announced that trade talks were “over” and told the UK to prepare for “no deal”. Talks, of course, resumed soon after this and it was clearly an attempt to feign a “hard line” approach to appease those Tory Brexiteers who would prefer no deal.

From the beginning the Brexit project has served two purposes.

One has been a cynical attempt to whip up support on the basis of nationalism, using xenophobia and anti-immigrant racism to drive a wedge into Labour’s working-class base – a tactic used to devastating effect in 2019.

The other has been to indulge the anti-regulation Thatcherite hardliners in the Conservative Party, who have an interest in a hard break with the EU and a reorientation of the economy towards the United States. The devastating effects of such a break on the British working class would largely benefit this wing of the capitalist class.

A no deal Brexit would have a terrible impact upon Britain’s economy, but so would Brexit even upon the most favourable of the terms currently being negotiated. Tariffs on the 30% of our food that comes from the EU will raise prices by between 7% and 30%. Ten per cent duty on Britain’s 2 million car imports and 1 million exports will inevitably lead to job losses: up to 30,000 in Sunderland alone.

The human impact on 3.6 million EU migrant families living here is even greater, with many already feeling forced to leave; the NHS, construction, agriculture will all face staff shortages. Meanwhile future trade deals, for example with the US, will threaten consumer and environmental protections.

Adding to this sense of impending chaos, parliament has threatened to break international law and tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol, which agreed a customs barrier down the Irish Sea to protect the all-Ireland economy, especially agricultural produce. No deal would devastate economies north and south and lead to a political crisis.

Britain’s capitalists look to take advantage of the decrease in regulation to degrade workers’ pay and conditions. Workers will be expected to shoulder the burden of the economic fallout. The speculators and fraudsters who make up the Brexiteer wing of the Conservative Party, however, expect to make like bandits. 

It is therefore a complete dereliction of duty on the part of Labour leader Keir Starmer to start parroting the Tories’ “Get Brexit Done” slogan. Just as with the Coronavirus and the infamous “spy cops” bill, the new Labour leadership is refusing to provide any real opposition to the Tories.

At a time when the Tories’ mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis is leading to thousands of deaths and economic collapse, and Johnson’s nationalist, disaster-capitalist approach to Brexit is going full-steam ahead, a resolute socialist opposition is sorely needed. This will not be found in Starmer’s Tory-lite approach and patriotic rhetoric. 

Brexit was always an anti-working class project, fuelled by capitalist greed and justified with cynical racism. The EU is an imperialist bloc for sure – but its break-up into smaller rival blocs will only benefit the far right and the racist populists.

The government failing to reach a trade deal with the EU or even reaching a deal on the most favourable terms being negotiated will result exacerbate the economic collapse Britain is already experiencing. The trade unions and the Labour Party must oppose any attempt to make the working-class pay for it:

  • Strike and occupy all factories threatening closure or relocation
  • All migrants welcome here
  • Link up with European unions and socialists for solidarity action

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