So what’s going on with the Brexit? Is the bluffing between Brussels and London getting out of hand? Underlying the debate about the future of the Irish border there is actually a struggle over the conditions to sell on the European market. But there are consequences that go far beyond that and a risk… that goes even further.
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Welcome back to the motley world of British-EU negotiations. September kicks off. Talks are at a standstill. The initiatives of a new referendum on independence in Scotland are revived. Questions such as fishing rights, which are not essential for British capital, become apparently insurmountable obstacles.
In fact, they are excuses for conditioning the real issue at stake, post-Brexit British industrial policy. Johnson wants to be able to sustain and capitalize on sectors like steel, green energy or Artificial Intelligence without having to provide explanations in Brussels. The EU fears seeing its borders open to competition from industries subsidized and inflated by the British government.
They are playing a bluff. Germany pretends to be disinterested, but the powerful automotive industry feels the vertigo. It fears the effect of a 10% tariff on its products in a market absorbing a third of its exports. In the EU, they are beginning to leak that ending the process without agreement may be a lesser evil: a few months of tariffs and border delays could make Britain an easier partner to negotiate with next year. Johnson calls for the intervention of the European Council, that is, a summit of presidents and prime ministers, but such a thing is ruled out by Brussels.
Great Britain has to double its bets to make its threats credible: it announces that the game is over in six weeks and that it will not accept extensions. The Financial Times leaks that Johnson is preparing to withdraw from negotiations and that the package will include the denunciation or at least a partial withdrawal from the exit agreement, including Ulster’s statute.
Seeing an opportunity in the troubled waters of Brexit, the Irish bourgeoisie begins to play again with the perspectives of unification of the island on the basis of the referendum envisaged in the Peace Accords.
If a referendum were to be held according to the Belfast Agreement, with the consent of all parties and decisive results, there would probably be applause throughout the continent. Many continental observers are not convinced that even conservative politicians in England are still unionist when it comes to Northern Ireland, and a successful referendum is likely to be widely seen as a clear resolution of history. But until support for the idea is broad and formally declared, Brussels will probably hedge its bets. “I think the EU would probably opt for a position of benevolent neutrality, would establish the position that this is an island issue, but if Northern Ireland opts for EU integration in Ireland, the EU will not stand in the way,” Dr. Clarkson said. “I suppose they will drown Northern Ireland in EU cash to try and keep things quiet. A proven method in the EU. And it would speed up Northern Ireland’s integration into the EU system. I don’t think that’s a difficult position to reach.
In Scotland, the echo was immediate. The pro-independence government strengthens its way towards its own referendum and adds fuel to the fire of the negotiations.
A new twist
Johnson goes on. The UK Internal Market Act project is finally presented. It gives unilateral powers to British ministers on how to implement critical parts of the withdrawal protocol. That is, in practice it allows them to remove customs controls between Ulster and the rest of the country… which for the EU would necessarily mean forcing Ireland to place customs controls on the border. This, of course, would force the EU itself to renounce the core of the Brexit agreement according to which Northern Ireland would remain in the EU single market regardless of whether there was a new trade agreement with Britain or not.
Johnson argues, in obvious contradiction with the move that allowed him to bring the Brexit forward, that he cannot allow the EU to negotiate with the gun on the table and eventually impose a regulatory border separating Ulster from the rest of the country. The British government acknowledges that this is a violation of international law, but that it is limited and that would only be activated in the event of no agreement. In Dublin there is despair. In Brussels they are preparing for a legal battle if needed.
The Irish government accuses Britain of sabotaging the Ulster peace agreement. And in the United States, the Democrats -in a nod to the EU fueled also by the importance of the Irish vote- threaten to reject the U.S.-British trade agreement in Congress if Brexit undermines the Good Friday agreement. And Scottish and Welsh nationalists are protesting against the recentralization driving the defense of market unity. Brussel’s recriminations become an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of the law before the end of this month.
But Johnson stands his ground. He manages to get the law passed, partly by giving in to part of his party: the implementation of the unilateral measures would have to be approved by parliament.
Towards an increase in the imperialist conflict between Great Britain and the continental powers
This is the lesser of two things. The law is simply another trump card in the tug-of-war with the EU. And the fact is that, domestically, the international response has strengthened it by staging an all against Britain that feeds back into the chauvinism of the Brexiters’ forces.
Johnson is able to activate the anti-European reflexes of his fellow citizens at the touch of a button. This fact should serve as a warning to Europeans of what is to come. Things are not good for the British government, and not only when it comes to Brexit. London is waiting for the perfect storm. A warm autumn has already begun, which could lead to a very cold winter.
And what is to come is, as the German press points out in the quote, an increase in aggressiveness against the EU as the crisis and the second wave of the pandemic hit Britain.
The risks of an acceleration in the battle between European imperialisms already exceed by far the sectorial losses -the automotion industry warned of 110 billion in potential losses in the case of a rough Brexit. It could be the missing push to aggravate and further perpetuate the ongoing recession. The continental powers, which will not change their positions if they see losses in sight, will not stop playing the Irish card. The spectre of Scottish secessionism and the return to the Troubles, that is to say the return to a more or less dirty war, of a more or less of low intensity, is again on the horizon.