Isolation at G7, chaos in Ireland sees British retreat on Brexit bluster
19 June 2021
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G-7 summit.
In the run-up to the meeting of the G7 committee Boris Johnson and his negotiator Lord Frost uttered bloodcurdling threats about the possibility of violence in Ireland. Frost met with the Democratic Unionist Party and the Loyalist Communities Council and set a deadline for resolution of the Northern Ireland protocol linked to the Orange demonstrations on the 12th of July. The British responded to challenges from European leaders with bursts of ultra-loyalism: Ulster is British and the Tories will defend the integrity of the UK. All that is needed is for Europe to show flexibility by abandoning the conditions on the UK built into Brexit.
We have seen this show before. Bluster and lying with declarations of British willingness to discard international law. Those around Johnson testify that he was prepared to say and do anything to get Brexit done and he and his cronies never had any intention of keeping to the agreements that they signed. What they intended was to cajole or intimidate Europe into allowing a rewriting of the Brexit agreement.
But why the duplicity? The people Johnson was lying to were the British electorate. Brexit would be quick and easy and the economy would boom. Concessions by then Irish Taoiseach Varadkar left the way open to an imaginary Irish Sea border and the Brexiteers seized the opportunity.
Now Johnson is caught in a vice. The EU will sanction Britain if it breaks the agreement. The Tory right will not accept a deal that appears to loosen their hold on the Irish colony. Joe Biden is breathing down his neck demanding that the Good Friday Agreement be preserved.
The British responded by unilaterally, and illegally, extending the transition period for the movement of goods from Britain to Ireland without checks. They talked about invoking Article 16 as if it were some sort of brake pedal when in reality it is a pause button. They encouraged unionist paramilitaries
One reason why they hesitate to go further is because a trade deal with the US is part of what passes for strategy in a British cabinet that shows the everyday incompetence and corruption associated with the former Trump Administration in the US.
To understand what is going on we have to refocus on the Brexit goal. The reason for Brexit was threefold:
Straight racism - Force out the migrants.
Deregulation - British employers will write their own rules about pay, employment and state services.
National sovereignty - The government will make their own decisions on pollution, environment, food quality and so on. (The NI protocol would largely disappear if Johnson would sign up to Europe's agriculture hygiene rules, but he wants to leave the door open for the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone saturated beef).
Behind the slogans was a decades long crisis of labour productivity. The capitalists want to fix this, but they don't look to the decline of manufacturing but rather at ways to force down the cost of labour.
What this means is that Brexit is far from done. It is the first step in a huge, if incoherent, assault on workers’ rights and on the environment designed to create a Singapore on Thames.
In planning the future of this assault Johnson has a lot of latitude. Sir Keir Starmer and Labour in general have proved completely incapable of providing any opposition to the wave of little Englander reaction sweeping England. The claims of Scottish nationalism dodge all the hard questions about class struggle and confronting the Tories. The Europeans are genuinely angry but will move at a snail's pace, allowing the British to tack back and forth. We should not forget that the Dublin government are the weak link here. Their last burst of cowardice saw them surrender the backstop.
In Ireland itself there is a broad belief that Brexit and the NI Protocol have weakened unionism. It has certainly provoked chaos with the short lived Poots reign and the fragmentation of the DUP.
The evidence now is of partial British retreat. The British were the subject of criticism and rejection at the G7. In Ireland the collapse of the DUP and the failed attempt to impose a solution via the secretary of state for the North badly shocked them. Frost has requested an extension of the grace period on agricultural products rather than defiantly imposing one unilaterally. This gives leeway for the EU to grant limited extension while gradually tightening the range of the NI Protocol.
To protect his flank following a recent election defeat (from the Liberals, not from Labour) Johnson will wave the union flag more vigorously. In Ireland the unionists will regroup, and the only way they build unity is to regroup to the right. The flimsy GFA structures will fall apart yet again and yet again the nationalists, reformist left and the trade union leaders will look for a quiet place to hide.
A defence of workers' interests has to be built. Reliance on a future "left" Sinn Fein government, on imaginary border polls or on Brexit leading to a British departure will leave us helpless. The Irish socialists must purge themselves of dreams about Lexit (Left Brexit) or Irexit (Irish exit from Europe). We must look to the need for a united Irish democracy in the context of working-class mobilisation at home and in solidarity with workers across Europe.