Brexit is an enormous political crisis, and the UK is in parliamentary deadlock. At the moment, there is no majority either for leaving or staying. Repeated votes are taken on a range of options on a regular basis but only opposition to a No Deal Brexit has commanded a majority. A brief overview on the current developments follows.
Not surprisingly, this situation is leading to the fragmentation of the Conservative Party, which has mishandled the process throughout: from the disastrous decision to hold a referendum, taken by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to appease the right-wing in his party, through to the decision by Theresa May to hold a ‘snap election’ to secure a greater majority for her Brexit plans, which actually resulted in her losing her overall majority. This led to one of the most troubling and difficult elements of the whole fiasco – the government is dependent on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to win votes in Parliament, a party which has repeatedly sabotaged May’s plans for the so-called Irish Backstop to maintain a soft border with the republic of Ireland, approved by the Irish government.
The Conservative Party itself is completely split, between those who are pro-European capital, and the English nationalists who want complete freedom for the free market from the rights and protections which come along with the EU package. If the UK participates in the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections, the Conservative Party could face massive losses: these elections are conducted via proportional representation and results are often very different to those achieved via the first-past-the-post general election system in the UK. Both the British National Party and UKIP have won seats in the European Parliament but not in general elections. Currently Labour is ahead in the polls, but with the founding of the new Brexit Party by Nigel Farage, together with UKIP as a possible recipient for right-wing pro-Brexit votes that are disillusioned by what they consider to be a ‘Brexit betrayal’ by Parliament, the possibility of a far-right electoral surge is very real. The possibility of a surge for Labour still remains however, and this would give the S&D European parliamentary grouping a real boost.
Indeed, many support the calling of a general election, to break the UK parliamentary deadlock, and it’s possible there could be a Labour victory as a result. This is by no means certain however, as Labour’s current attempts to sort out a deal with Mrs. May, to get a softened version of her Brexit deal through, are very unpopular with many of those previously supporting Labour. Labour was a Remain party prior to the referendum, and the big surge of young people who have backed Labour because of Corbyn’s more radical politics are still profoundly pro-Remain, widely backing a second referendum, or People’s Vote, to keep Britain within the EU. Whilst Labour did unexpectedly well at the ‘snap election’, it may be punished for its willingness to work with the discredited Conservative government and its shying away from a further popular vote. In fact if Labour is responsible for getting May’s deal through in amended form, leadership of the Conservative Party will go to the Conservative right – potentially Boris Johnson – and that will put Britain even further on a nightmare course of reaction, racism and Islamophobia.
In other words, pretty much anything could happen. But what we can be sure of is this: Brexit is not just a British crisis. Brexit is the British expression of deeper shifts within capitalism internationally, and the British manifestation of the far-right turn, afflicting Europe and beyond.