British Brexit strategy hits the buffers
More chaos ahead
28 December 2021
Lord Frost looks on as PM Boris Johnson signs EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.
Disagreement with covid strategy is not the reason for Lord Frost's departure from the British government. In reality the resignation represents the Brexit bus hitting the barriers. The result for the Tories of their attempt to sell an "oven ready" Brexit is greater instability between Europe and Britain and between Britain and the north of Ireland. The chaos at the top will help mask the inability of trade union leaders and reformist politicians to offer any convincing alternatives. The overall explanation for the evolution of British politics is a continuing decay and an unstable chaos.
There is no doubt that Frost's statement represents an anti-vaxxer frenzy from the right. However rather than provoking that constituency, Johnson has attempted to consistently placate it. There is also no doubt but that Frost is trying to distract from the only real reason for his departure - the unwillingness of Johnson to press ahead with a kamikaze attack on Europe.
Frost himself has always been easy to understand, a boot boy lifted up by Johnson to pressure the Europeans, his negotiating style is to demand changes, put them in his back pocket and demand more. That style has worked well until now, but it has reached its limits with the demand that the European Court of Justice be removed from its oversight role.
The EU have made significant concessions but have made it clear that they have come to the finish line. The British must cash in their chips or go towards a total rupture. Johnson has no intention of going further, nor is he in a position to lead a demented English nationalism over a cliff as his own support collapses.
Frost attempts to conceal the split on invoking Article 16 and defying the EU because an open split with Johnson would weaken the far right. They are buying time.
A number of contradictory forces are at play in the Tory coalition. Boris the Booster tied it all together with a tissue of lies and it is now unravelling. The economic case for a global Britain and the return of empire was always a fantasy, the political imperative to build a strong right-wing populist base was more realistic but also unstable. Levelling up promises to improve the standard of living of poorer workers were never going to be realised, especially as the economy contracted. A low regulation, zero workers’ rights Singapore-on-Thames would not emerge automatically from the fever dreams of the Brexiteers but would involve a protracted class struggle.
The right has made progress. New laws will criminalise the majority of protest actions, the judiciary and press have been corralled, as has the media. Privatisation is accompanied by cronyism that sees massive amounts of public money transferred to the friends of the government. Anti-migrant hysteria is adding removal of citizenship as part of the state's armoury of repression. Environmental and health regulations are being gutted.
However, the immediate reason for Frost's departure was a failure to remove the oversight of the Brexit agreement by the ECJ. Without that removal Britain finds itself in the same position as Poland and Hungary - implementing authoritarian regimes that will lead to confrontation with the EU*. However, in Britain's case they have the costs of Brexit without any corresponding advantages.
Unfortunately, the shambles does not stop at the doors of conservatism. Sir Keir Starmer will more than likely be remembered as the man who expelled Jews and socialists in their hundreds on the basis of an imaginary antisemitism. In the outside world, where Johnson faces a storm of criticism, Starmer constantly offers support in the national interest. The threadbare strategy is to elect Labour as the more efficient Tories.
The socialist groups are also in disarray, wedded to an imaginary left Brexit and buried in a swamp of identity politics.
The theme of chaos and decay extends to Ireland. By its very nature Irish unionism is a creature of British Toryism and naturally an extension of the far right. They saw Brexit as a way of scuppering the hated Good Friday Agreement and gave it fervent support even when many supporters complained of economic disruption.
The outcome saw two blows. Their support for Brexit had shrunk their support while Johnson's Northern Ireland protocol seemed to weaken the British link.
There was a bloodbath inside the DUP. Foster was outed by Poots who was in turn outed by Donaldson. In the debris office boy Paul Given remains as First Minister.
The party is left with two tactics. One is to use unionist unity as a mechanism for mobilising paramilitaries and forcing sectarian conflict. While that remains a danger their declining support and lack of enthusiasm for Brexit makes this difficult. The other strategy is to threaten to pull out of the Stormont Assembly in order to stiffen the resolve of British Tories. The departure of Lord Frost is an indication of the bankruptcy of this strategy also. People are already laughing at Donaldson as he threatens yet again to leave the administration.
On the level of policy, the foundation of unionism is undying hatred for an Irish democracy. That means that they can't endorse a policy of endorsing the advantages of being in two economic zones at once, while many of their supporters are pragmatically making the adjustments to meet the new environment.
Again, as in Britain, the rot does not stop at the doors of unionism. Sinn Fein opposes Brexit, but from the standpoint of unconditional support for European capital. They are unable to criticise the DUP because they need to prove to Southern capitalism that they would be a safe pair of hands in a Dublin government. In any case what stability the North has comes from corruption and the sharing out of sectarian influence.
The trade union bureaucracy quietly supports the status quo and the socialist groups are mostly immersed in a civic society held up by grants, dedicated to lobbying local government for minor concessions while waving a discredited Irish Brexit (Irexit) as a cover for depoliticisation.
The Irish capitalist class are all too eager to exploit Brexit opportunities - in fact they created them by surrendering the EU "backstop" in return for solemn assurances from Boris Johnson. However, by balancing between Europe and Britain they are in fact in the jaws of a monster. The British history of oppression and their current unravelling of the GFA are well known. On the other hand, Europe forced Irish workers to meet 46% of the European banking debt.
The current adherence to European Central Bank directives has enriched the ruling class but impoverished the workers, leaves an absence of fully developed public services which are rapidly being privatised and an immense housing crisis in a sector dedicated to preserving the profits of vulture capitalism.
Political decay continues apace in Britain Ireland and in Europe itself. History will only turn the page when we advocate for a Workers’ Republic at home and a United Socialist States of Europe abroad.
*Battles within the EU do not imply that the leadership will play a progressive role, but they will be forced to try and hold to a core of common legal and regulatory standards on which the common market is based and which act as a barrier to the evolution of far-right governments.