THERESA MAY’S Brexit speech has the virtue of making the difference between Conservative and Labour aspirations crystal clear.
The same can’t be said of her strategy for leaving the EU — a speech full of phrases like “life is going to be different,” “there will be ups and downs” and “our future is bright” was somewhat shorter on detail.
Claims that British and EU negotiators are “close” to agreement on the terms of an implementation period merely reveal that a bargain still eludes the PM, while “let’s get on with it” is a lame sally from the leader of the government almost 21 months after the referendum.
Even so, May made it clear that a Tory Brexit will be one that seeks to maintain all the anti-democratic restrictions membership of the single market imposes on economic decision-making.
Given she was playing catch-up with Jeremy Corbyn, who set out his party’s approach earlier in the week, the Prime Minister will have weighed the following words carefully: “We may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remaining in step with the EU’s.”
This was a sharp riposte to Corbyn’s promise that a Labour Brexit would negotiate terms which allow us to “support cutting-edge industries and local business” and “stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing.”
Since the 2016 vote to leave, the Conservative Party has struggled to reconcile its obligation to honour the result of a referendum it called — and which its members and voters overwhelmingly welcomed — with the desire of its City paymasters to maintain EU membership.
At times, the British Establishment has considered Brexit such a threat that grandees such as Michael Heseltine have toyed with support for Labour in the hope that its many pro-EU MPs might be willing to overturn the vote or negotiate an exit which maintains member status in all but name via single market and customs union membership.
The fact that at this critical juncture the Labour Party — so often in the past simply the B-team of British capitalism — is led by an actual socialist and anti-imperialist has confounded an elite who no longer have a major British political party able to implement their preferred policies.
Today’s pledge to maintain competition rules that restrict public ownership and encourage outsourcing, as well as state aid rules that prevent planned management of the economy, was a pitch for Britain’s capitalists to renew their confidence in the Tories.
May pointed out, accurately, that Britain has done much to create these anti-socialist regulations in the first place as one of the key drivers of EU neoliberalism.
On this she sounded the same note as her Netherlands counterpart Mark Rutte who, speaking in Berlin at the same time, outlined a future for the EU that accelerates the deregulation of “protected” professions, imposes more economic “restructuring” (cuts and privatisation) on member states and cuts its development budget to spend more on a joint military.
That Rutte is unconcerned about whether these measures are democratic is shown by his explicit praise for French President Emmanuel Macron, whose attacks on labour rights and the public sector are being imposed by decree rather than exposed to the hazards of parliamentary votes.
Rutte and May’s speeches show the same commitment to unfettered “free market” capitalism because on the big questions the Conservative Party and the European Commission are in complete agreement.
It is Corbyn’s Labour, with its commitment to extending democratic control of our economy and challenging the power of big business, that offers a real alternative.
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