The front cover of September’s Socialist Review asked, “Are the Tories heading for the rocks?” This month came the answer: a resounding yes.
While Theresa May seems to have seen off the initial rebellion against her draft withdrawal treaty from the EU, the Tories’ decades-long row over Britain’s membership of the EU could blow up at any time over the next few weeks, toppling May and crippling the government.
Misgivings about May’s deal go way deeper than Jacob Rees-Mogg’s mob of fanatical Brexiters, putting the chance of her winning a vote in parliament to back it very slim, particularly given the Tories’ partner Democratic Unionist Party’s hostility to the treaty.
There can be no doubt that May’s treaty stinks. For the Brexiters, it stinks because it ties the UK to the EU’s rules and regulations for years to come — ones overseen by the European Court of Justice over which the UK will have little if any say.
Many of them are also angry about the backstop it contains which, they claim, could end up creating an internal border within the UK. Others point to the £39 billion cost of retaining access to the single market.
For socialists, whether or not they voted to leave or stay in the 2016 referendum, it stinks because it keeps the UK closely aligned with the biggest neoliberal organisation in the world — one responsible for enforcing austerity and privatisation across Europe for the past three decades.
And it is one that the treaty ensures will continue to curtail a future Corbyn government’s aims to renationalise sections of the UK’s infrastructure.
As important, the treaty will end free movement and create a myriad of nightmarish problems both for EU nationals residing in the UK, and for Britons living in the EU.
It will also give the Tories much greater control over migration, as shown by May’s disgusting crowing about stopping people from the EU “queue-jumping” for jobs.
Apart from racists, the only people welcoming the deal are the majority of the country’s business leaders. The Confederation of British Industry, Institute of Directors, federation of small businesses and so on, have all, either enthusiastically or grudgingly, backed the deal and urged MPs to do the same.
And no wonder. In the two years of chaotic negotiations and turmoil among the Tories and within the British state as a whole, they have time and again made clear their wish to remain as closely tied to the EU as possible.
For them, if that means living with rules they have no control over, so be it.
The debate is set to continue until May puts it to a parliamentary vote before Christmas.
She will be banking on scaring Tory MPs into backing the deal with the prospect of either a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum that could deliver a reversal to the whole process.
She will also be hoping her supporters’ dire warnings of financial disaster following a defeat will frighten waverers into backing her.
And she will ruthlessly exploit the oft-used “in the interests of national unity” to sweep up wavering Labour and SNP MPs.