On October 8 protests against leaving the European Union took place at a number of places along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. These were organised by the campaign “Border Communities against Brexit”. Hundreds attended demonstrations at the Fermanagh-Leitrim border. There were protests at Carrickcarnan, Moybridge, Aghalane Bridge, Lifford Bridge and Bridgend on the border between Derry and Donegal. Meanwhile the demand for Irish passports continues to rise.
Referendum day, 23 June 2016, was a ‘republican moment’ when sovereignty, the power to decide, passed temporarily to the people. Without forgetting those millions of EU citizens and 16-18 years excluded, the people voted seventeen million to leave the EU, sixteen million to remain and thirteen million abstained. The citizens of Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay and in England and Wales to leave. Those protesting on the Irish border were saying in effect their votes have been stolen.
Of course the UK is a constitutional monarchy not a republic. A ‘republican moment’ is exactly that, only a moment. No sooner than it was over than power returned immediately to the “Crown-in-Parliament”. As has been pointed out before, the ‘Crown’ is a political front for the City of London and therefore the number one priority of Her Majesty’s government is to plot a way around the referendum which secures the interests of financial capital and their corporate friends. The financial markets are assessing progress so far. The pound is down and share prices up.
The Crown and Parliament are not equal partners. The Crown, as represented through Her Majesty’s First Minister, normally has the lion’s share of the power. The Prime Minister will decide how much of the secret negotiations are to be revealed to parliament. She will decide what “Brexit” means and apparently it means “Brexit”. But the Crown is not having its own way. There is a legal dispute over whether the Crown or Parliament has the right to trigger Article 50.
In the Telegraph James Kirkup (10 October 2016) writes about this battle. “Britain must leave the European Union. That was the clear instruction of the electorate, issued at the referendum in June”. But “parliament must vote on the numerous questions that arise from our leaving. That is how British democracy works”. That is the theory not the practice. Kirkup says “there is a building political row about them says a great deal about the depressing and divisive nature of Britain’s post-referendum conversation about Europe”.
Politicians are deeply divided. On one side “for a small group of Remainers, leaving is not inevitable. Often questioning the intelligence or education of Leave voters, they dream, often secretly, of finding ways to block Brexit, or perhaps just delay it for so long that the question can be revisited and overturned. Such disregard for the electorate is lamentable”. No republicanism here then.
The other side of Brexit is no better. “There is an equally unattractive tendency emerging among some Brexiteers (and curiously, among some Remainers who now support Brexit) to shout down anyone who takes a differing view… Simply, some in the Brexit camp that is now led by Theresa May appear to think that the people who lost the referendum also lost the right to speak about the EU, meaning their voices should no longer be heard when decisions are made about exactly how we should leave”.
The Crown has used its power to seize the republican moment, interpret the result and impose that on the country. Hence Kirkup says that for the PM “the referendum result trumps all else, including parliamentary sovereignty: because 52 per cent of the electorate voted to leave, anything done in the name of the 52 per cent is not just valid but unquestionable. Meanwhile, anything that looks like it reflects the views of the 48 per cent is by definition invalid. This is the tyranny of the narrow majority, and it should not stand”.
He concludes “We had a referendum but that referendum does not mean politics is over, that debate about Britain and the EU must cease, frozen forever in aspic at the precise moment the result was declared”. At the centre of the Crown’s ‘coup d’ etat’ is the slogan that “Brexit means Brexit”. The Tories and UKIP never fail to define what it means. Apparently everybody who voted to leave did so for the racist reasons – to keep out foreign immigrants. This is what Brexit must deliver.
This is simply untrue. Many voted to leave for other reasons. The majority in England and Wales to leave the EU is not a majority to stop immigration or end free movement. It is an idea racists promote but it is not a democratic fact. It was not on the ballot paper and we did not vote on it. Others voted to leave to restore full sovereignty to the Crown-in-Parliament and some, such as the SWP, just to embarrass or damage the ruling class. Tory Brexiters claim it means there must be free trade and the free movement of capital but not the free movement of workers. Such important arguments were not on the ballot paper.
Socialists must totally and utterly reject the idea of Brexit and all racist arguments supporting it. It is an attempt to use chauvinist and racist ideas to steal the result in the interests of the financial and business class. It is anti-democratic. The Brexiteers are fanning the flames of chauvinism to divert attention from their secret negotiations and their plan to secure a result favourable to the City and business whilst doing to maximum to divide the working class.
Democratic Exit recognises all the facts about who voted and who did not. It recognises that minorities have rights including the right to be heard. It recognises that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and must be allowed and enabled to stay there. (Denmark-Greenland option). All democrats in England and Wales must as a principle support the right of the Scottish and Irish people to self determination, including their right to remain in the EU. Such a policy would minimise the economic damage and make sure that leaving the EU does not in itself cause the breakup of the UK , the likely result of imposing exit against the will of the Scottish and Irish people.
England and Wales voted to leave the EU. This must happen. But here there are two main options. First is the Norwegian example of being outside the European Union but in the European Economic Area. Second there is the Turkish or Canadian option of being outside the single market. These are the so-called “Soft” and “Hard” exists. The key difference here is over the free movement of labour.
Socialists defend the right to move freely to Germany and Spain and demand more trade union rights at the same time. This backs Jeremy Corbyn’s support for free movement. But we need to go one step further and say it means remaining in the European Economic Area. Then with Northern Ireland and Scotland in the EU and England and Wales in the European Economic Area, we have a democratic result, maintaining our freedoms and remaining in the closest relations with progressive working class forces in Europe.
In this sense the call for a Democratic Exit for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is the best way of defending the European working class in the face of a ferocious the right wing nationalist offensive. Of course some say once negotiations are concluded there should be another ‘republican moment’ as the people vote on the deal. It is too important to the working class to be left to the Crown-in-Parliament. A Democratic Exit supported by majority votes is the best way forward, but it is not a solution.
A better plan is not to leave power in the hands of the Crown and the City and their wheeler dealing. The socialist movement must fight for popular sovereignty now. Brexit is not ‘taking our country back’. The people have to take power from the Crown-in-Parliament and the only way that is possible is through a democratic revolution, not a Brexit carve up. Unfortunately the socialist movement in England and Wales has no plan to fight for the transfer of power to the people.