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From: The Socialist issue 1068, 8 January 2020: Climate change. Poverty. War. Capitalism must go - fight for socialism

Search site for keywords: Brexit - Workers - EU - Union

Trouble ahead for Johnson: Brexit is far from 'done'

photo EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/CC

photo EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Steve Score, Socialist Party national committee

In the general election Johnson got his majority in parliament to "get Brexit done." But those who voted for him because they wanted to finally finish the endless chaos and uncertainty surrounding Brexit will be disappointed.

While the EU Withdrawal Bill was passed just before Christmas and could be pushed into law by the deadline of 31 January, then begins the "transitional period" of real negotiations with the EU. During this period, which is set to end on 31 December this year, the UK is technically outside the EU but still complies with EU rules.

Johnson wants to legally ensure no extension of that date. But considering how long it took just to get the withdrawal agreement, getting a deal on trade and many complex other issues with the EU - leaving aside possibly negotiating deals with other countries outside the EU - is going to be extremely difficult. If no agreement is reached by the end of the year it could mean either 'no deal' is back on the agenda, or a government u-turn on extending the deadline.

While Johnson currently has a majority in parliament, the Tory party is just as divided as before over Brexit. The majority of the ruling class wants a Brexit deal that is as near as possible to remaining, but many Tory MPs do not.

Negotiations, or lack of progress on them, could again raise the prospect of splits in the Tories. Many issues could cause conflict inside the party - how the negotiations deal with the post-Brexit relationship with Northern Ireland, for example.

Withdrawal bill

The new version of the withdrawal bill removes some concessions that had to be made before Johnson got his majority. One heartless example is the removal of a pledge on the legal rights of refugee children to be reunited with families who are in the UK.

It is clear that Johnson does not want a Brexit that favours working-class people. The new bill removes pledges on workers' rights that had been in the previous one. In fact, the previous pledge - against workers' rights "regressing" as a result of Brexit - was already far too vague.

Now the government is promising a new bill on workers' rights at some point in the future. But, combined with the threat of new anti-union laws effectively banning strikes in transport, there is no doubt that Johnson plans further attacks on the trade unions and workers' rights.

The bill also increases powers for judges to overturn past European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings after Brexit. There are fears that any pro-worker rulings could be overturned.

Given the class nature of the top judges, and the recent example of blatant class bias in the decision to overturn the postal workers' strike ballot, they would certainly be unlikely to overturn any of the anti-trade-union rulings the ECJ has made.

The Socialist Party opposes the EU because its rules are designed to defend the profits and markets of big business, and puts forward a working-class and socialist Brexit as the alternative.

The only guarantees on workers' rights are those that are forced by mass trade union action. These rights have always only been won by struggle, and the trade unions need to prepare now for huge battles to defend rights and overturn anti-trade-union laws.

Workers' struggles and economic instability could also add to the uncertainty over Brexit negotiations and turmoil in the Tory party. One thing is sure - Brexit is far from "done".

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