The Tory elite is toying with the lives of millions across the continent, says Gabi Zimmer.
Theresa May and her Conservative party – torn apart by vicious in-fighting, and held hostage by an ultra-conservative bible-bashing party on which her thin government majority depends for survival – are forcing the terms of Brexit down to the wire. This threatens all the safeguards that the European Parliament has been fighting for since the summer of 2016.
For all the complicated jargon and wrangling over Brexit, for the Left it comes down to protecting citizens’ rights and peace. As a member of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, I have first and foremost fought to ensure that Parliament focuses on securing guarantees on EU and UK citizens’ rights and the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. The constitutional foundation of democratic dialogue, which has underpinned the peace process in Ireland, must be protected.
Yet whilst we have been unambiguous about our demands, deadlines for a clear response from the UK government have come and gone with disheartening regularity: the December EU Council, the legal notification date in January 2019, the six-week deadline for shipping companies trading between East Asia and the United Kingdom… Even the original Brexit day itself.
This is unacceptable.
It beggars belief that we still do not know how Britain will leave the EU – or indeed, when. Some of our colleagues had forewarned us of the infamous British brinkmanship tactic of ‘running down the clock’.
This is why, since last October, our group has been calling on the British government to do everyone a favour and just call it quits. At least that would have allowed us all to prepare for a ‘hard’ Brexit rather than the daily melodrama the current approach has ushered in.
Instead, the Tory elite has continued toying with the lives of millions across the continent in a boorish parlour game that demonstrates yet again the blatant disregard held by the UK ruling class towards working people.
And it is the situation in the north of Ireland that is the most pressing and worrying for us all.
Because nobody wants to return to the division of Ireland´s recent past. That is why people in the north of Ireland voted by a huge majority to remain in the EU and rejected Brexit. They know that Brexit will undo all that has been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement – an internationally-recognised, binding treaty that was underpinned by EU membership.
The younger generations of today may not fully understand the suffering that their parents and grandparents had to endure, but they want to prevent a return to a troubled past which claimed thousands of lives in previous decades. This is a testament to the peace and progress that all sides have been painstakingly forging since 1998.
The unilateral, uncompromising and party-political grandstanding by Tory hardliners – propped up by the far-right Democratic Unionist Party – in Westminster raises the prospect of re-erecting a border that was once manned by military checkpoints.
Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement are mutually incompatible: the former guarantees Irish people’s rights to EU citizenship – without borders, and without derogations to common trade, customs and tariffs regimes. Peace and prosperity in Ireland cannot be the collateral damage from the Tory Brexit fantasy.
Furthermore, serious concerns remain over the protection of workers’ rights and environmental standards after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The EU is very far from perfect, suffering from decades-long mistakes which will require radical change to be addressed. Therefore, we need to fight together to fundamentally change the EU.
Of course, there are sound leftist arguments for Brexit, and this has posed a real dilemma for many on the Left.
However, there are also many valid reasons to believe that Brexit will do more harm than good.
Looking into those reasons, Brexit is not the best answer we have: it will hurt workers the most. It will not free the working man or woman as the Tories’ post-Brexit sunny upland vision of a hyper-capitalist Singapore-on-Thames is realised.
Young, left-leaning people are progressive, forward-looking and internationalist in their outlook. They are socially aware, want to tackle climate change, and what’s more, they enjoy the present and want a future where cultures mix, dialogue takes place and they travel, work and study in other places is a matter of freedom, not privilege.
They don’t want a fortress Europe of inward-looking nation states where border guards dictate the boundaries of their aspirations. That’s why we must look to them in the fight for individual, fundamental and social rights, in the EU.
Citizens are not bargaining chips. We cannot afford to tolerate such reckless wild gambles in their name.
Gabi Zimmer is President of European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament, and member of the Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group.
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