Britain: Brexit hardliners take control

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The new administration of Prime Minister Theresa May marks a sharp shift in Britain's Conservative Party government towards the xenophobic right.

May has had a remarkable clearout of ministers who served under ex-PM David Cameron — who resigned after leading the failed campaign to stay in the European Union — in order to shape the government in her image.

Most significantly, the key positions in terms of Brexit — the issue that will define the May administration — go to hard-line right-wing Brexiteers. David Davies comes in as minister for Brexit, Liam Fox is brought in to take the newly created minister of foreign trade position and Boris Johnson comes in as foreign secretary.

It means that these people have been handed the reins of power to reshape British politics and Britain's place in the world for the next generation, if they get their way.

The central objective of this Brexit-dominated government is to cut immigration to the bone. Even set against a previous administration that was itself xenophobic, it is significant overall shift to the right.

Do not expect a change in economic policies; believers in neoliberalism have been strengthened, not weakened, in this new government. New Chancellor Phillip Hammond is more sympathetic to the needs of small and medium manufacturing businesses, which were far more sympathetic to leaving the EU on the basis of the elimination of rules protecting workers and working conditions.

There are big changes in the structure of government as well. Most significantly, the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been abolished as a separate department and merged with the Department of Industry. This is a potential disaster for the environment.

Those on the left who argued to remain in the EU on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics have been proven right.

The wider aftermath of the referendum is also clear. The referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU, despite the formal question on the ballot paper. It was a referendum on migration into this country: i.e. how many migrants do you want to come to come here.

In interview after interview in the streets, the overwhelming response to the question why are you voting Brexit was: too much immigration.

As a result, racism has been strengthened, hate crimes against migrants have doubled, the political situation has moved to the right. The Tory Party has moved to the right, UKIP has been strengthened, a Labour pro-remain MP was gunned down during the campaign by a fascist shouting “put Britain first” and we are heading for an exit from the EU shaped by the xenophobic right, in which ending free movement of people and cutting immigration to the bone are the order of the day.

At the same time, the future of EU citizens living in this country is set be used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.

The Brexit vote was a backlash from the dispossessed and the victims of austerity. But it was vulnerable to the racist argument that migration was responsible — and it was not the overall driving force of the Brexit vote.

Whether there will be an early general election is now in May's hands. She will only go for one if she is confident that she can mobilise the Brexit vote behind the Tories and win a big majority. Without that, she will be quite happy to wait until 2020.

All this makes the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader even more crucial. The only answer to the kind of government that May is constructing is the kind of radical anti-austerity and anti-racist alternative that Corbyn represents.

It is only this which has a chance of cutting through the fog of the referendum and inspire mass support for an alternative.

[Abridged from Socialist Resistance.]

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