Brexit will put America first and workers last. We must stop Boris

16 August 2019

Originally published in Labour List

Author: Clive Lewis MP

Less than three months to go until Boris Johnson drives us off a cliff, and it certainly has been another interesting week in the ongoing Brexit psychodrama. The much-discussed founding statement of the newly-formed LeFT (Leave Fight Transform) campaign rightly spoke about 40 years of declining wages and the hollowing out of our democracy.

Just a few days later, Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton promised that the UK would jump to the front of the queue for trade with the US if it leaves the European Union on October 31st. Frankly, nothing would be more disastrous for British workers and for our democracy.

What the Lexiteers seem to have missed is that crashing out of the EU does not mean crashing out of global capitalism. In Nigel Lawson’s words right after the referendum, Brexit is about “finishing the job that Margaret Thatcher started”. The ‘finish the job’ Thatcherites in Johnson’s cabinet see Brexit as an opportunity to sign the type of trade deals we thought we had seen the back of when campaigners defeated TTIP (within the EU!).

Once the UK’s links with our biggest trading partner are severed, we will inevitably be pushed deep into the dog-eat-dog American sphere. The question isn’t whether a UK-US deal would be bad; the question is how bad. With an economy seven times the size of the UK’s, and our country left weakened and desperate for new trading relationships, there is no reason to believe that the US and its ‘America First’ President would treat us kindly. We would quickly learn the hard way that there is nothing ‘special’ in our relationship when powerful private interests are involved.

There is also no reason to believe that the government would put up a fight and resist attempts to turn Britain into a laissez-faire playground for American mega-business. Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary and founder of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, has recently held talks with libertarian think tanks in the States. These free market fundamentalists are salivating at the prospect of carving up our agriculture, technology and pharmaceutical sectors and relaunching an ‘Anglo-American’ model of capitalism.

Meanwhile, Dominic Raab, the new Foreign Secretary, has long argued against the ‘straitjacket’ of EU regulations. We know exactly what escaping the ‘straitjacket’ means to Raab, Truss, Johnson and co: a race-to-the-bottom economy with our social protections and workers’ rights immediately put on the line, threatened in a way we haven’t seen since Thatcher’s spate of anti-union laws in the 1980s. This is not what “taking back control” looks like.

Then there is the obvious hit our democracy would take. Being the very junior partner in an isolated “special relationship”, the UK could be bullied into accepting the US administration’s political demands as it lashes out to retain supremacy in an increasingly multipolar world. Would a Trump government or future right-wing administration, for example, pressure the UK into pulling out of international accords on climate change? How about the nuclear deal with Iran?

And of course there’s the NHS. Trump famously said that “everything is on the table”, including the NHS, before backtracking after a word from his advisers. But there is every reason to remain deeply worried. In February, the Office of the US Trade Representative stated a negotiating objective in any trade deal with the UK would be “full market access” for costly US pharmaceutical products. The US would also likely push for more favourable contracts for US companies within the NHS, as it has done in other trade deals. Whether it is carved up or faces significantly higher costs and pressures, Labour’s greatest achievement in government would be placed at very serious risk.

The Lexiteer retort of “but Labour will do things differently!” seriously underestimates how hamstrung a future Labour government would be if this disaster capitalist nightmare goes ahead. We would either be stuck with unfavourable deals (which pose the biggest threat to our public ownership plans) or end up battling to get out of them, using up significant political energy and capital in what would be an extremely complicated process. I know what I’d rather be focusing our energies on when we enter government – ending homelessness, saving the NHS, and transforming our economy so that it works for the many.

Reforming the EU is of course a challenge, and nobody on the ‘remain and reform’ side of the debate underestimates the task. But the path towards a fairer, more equal and more democratic Europe is much, much clearer than turning a right-wing, Tory-led nostalgia project – with all of its fantasies of dream trade deals – into a socialist one. Did I mention we now have less than three months to go until a Tory no deal Brexit? We must oppose it with the full force of our movement’s collective strength.

The Love Socialism group (formerly Love Socialism Hate Brexit) is a set of radical and socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter here.