THE third defeat of the Leave-in-name-only deal cooked up by Theresa May and EU negotiator Michel Barnier leaves big business panicking and Britain’s political system in crisis.
Manufacturing capitalists’ group Make UK boss Stephen Phipson says business is “devastated.” Institute of Directors chief Edwin Morgan slams the “spirit-sapping limbo” that has engulfed our politics.
Ruling-class unity is shattering; former Bank of England chief Mervyn King now pushes a no-deal exit that the Bank under his successor Mark Carney has repeatedly depicted as disastrous.
According to the terms of Article 50, we should have left the EU today, but despite this being announced two years ago, government and Parliament have failed to agree terms.
The EU now seeks to push Britain into agreeing a long extension. The European Commission says it is “fully prepared” for a no-deal exit to take place at midnight on April 12, while loading its statement with menace: “The benefits of the Withdrawal Agreement, including a transition period, will in no circumstances be replicated in a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Sectoral mini-deals are not an option.”
But as IPPR economist Grace Blakeley observed yesterday, “the eurozone, having entirely failed to solve any of the structural problems that led to the 2011 debt crisis, is now teetering on the edge of recession,” noting that industrial production in Germany is slowing sharply, economic confidence is at its lowest level since 2013 and “the threat of tariffs on trade with the UK could tip already weak eurozone economies over the edge.”
EU emphasis on the risks of no-deal is designed to increase support for an extension that would see Britain participate in the European elections in May.
The Prime Minister herself hints that this is likely by allowing her spokesman to say it is “not inevitable.” MPs who think this is a good idea should be careful what they wish for: Ukip topped the poll at Britain’s last European elections in 2014, and that party has morphed into an altogether uglier beast in the meantime.
For some, the projected extension is merely an excuse to scupper the people’s vote to Leave: George Osborne’s former sidekick Vince Cable tweets that a second referendum would be the best way to convince EU leaders to agree a longer framework, and makes sure to specify that it must contain “the option to Remain in the EU.”
But despite this manoeuvring, the pressure for a general election as the only way to break the deadlock is growing.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has started calling for it, though he muddies the waters by calling for a second referendum too.
Labour has demanded one ever since May’s first defeat demonstrated her government’s inability to get its signature policy through the Commons, and Jeremy Corbyn was right to focus again on that yesterday.
And the PM’s remark that we “may have reached the limits” of what we can achieve in with Parliament as currently constituted might have been stating the obvious, but could indicate that she no longer sees any way of avoiding an election.
All the pressure the labour movement can bring to bear should now be directed toward making that happen.
There is no guarantee of election victory. Our politics is chaotic, with a Remain-supporting PM posing as the champion of Brexit and the splinter group rebranding itself “Change UK” being the parliamentary outfit that most obviously stands for the perpetual continuation of the status quo.
But there is one party offering real, systemic change, addressing the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency, the racketeering and theft of the public’s wealth.
Labour has the vision and the size to make that offer count and break the chains of that “spirit-sapping limbo.”
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