Editorial from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
By calling a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union in June 2016, David Cameron was counting on a victory for the Remain side to contain the Eurosceptics in the Tory Party and see off the challenge from UKIP. Far from overcoming the divisions within the Tory Party, the resulting victory for the Leave side has blown them wide apart.
David Cameron immediately cut his losses and ran, leaving his successor, Theresa May, to pick up the pieces. She attempted to gain the upper hand in her Party by calling a General Election a year later, but unfortunately for her, she lost her majority and is now more vulnerable to the Tory Party's warring factions.
The referendum result has had repercussions for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the two regions where most voters opted for Remain. The SNP government has used it as ammunition to press for a second Scottish Independence referendum. Leaving the EU could jeopardise the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement, as this was predicated on there being a common customs area between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Initially, partly to poach votes from UKIP and increase support in Brexit areas, Theresa May pursued a so-called hard Brexit, where the UK would leave both the customs union and the single market. However, facing up to the reality that most British businesses need to stay close to the EU and to avoid a hard border in Ireland, on the 6th July, the Government at Chequers produced plans which amounted to a "softer" Brexit. There would be a harmonisation with EU rules in trading with goods (but not with services). However, this was too much for some and there were howls of treachery and several ministers have resigned, including David Davis and Boris Johnson. Tory Brexiteers have threatened to mount a leadership challenge. May backed down and accepted amendments from a hardline Tory Brexit group to water down her Customs bill. This sparked a rebellion among furious Tory Remain MPs. May seems to be caught in a pincer movement between the Remain and Brexit factions of her Party and her authority is ebbing away. Some have argued that a Second Referendum on Brexit is needed to resolve this impasse. Others say that another General Election is required.
We are treated to the unusual spectacle of the Tory Party being unable to serve the interests of the majority of the British capitalist class, who favour staying in the Custom Union. Ironically, it is Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party that appears to better represent the interests of British capitalism on this issue.
This political crisis is really a matter for the capitalist class only, but the working class has been dragged into it. At the 2016 referendum, we argued that workers had no interest in supporting either the Leave or Remain campaigns, as either way they will still have to deal with the problems of capitalism, such as job insecurity, low wages and unemployment, and urged them to write ‘World Socialism’ over their ballot papers. Should there be a second referendum, we will again be advising workers to do the same.