Vol. XLII No. 49 December 09, 2018

“To Remain or not to Remain”, is the Question Tearing UK Apart

Harsev Bains

ON first of January 1973, the UK which consists of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar joined the European Economic Community.

The European Economic Community was a regional organisation which aimed to bring about economic integration among its member states. It was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. The EEC established a common market, which gave members the freedom to move goods, services, capital and people, and also a customs union among the founding states.

Upon the formation of the European Union in 1993, the EEC was incorporated and renamed as the European Community. In 2009 the EC's institutions were absorbed into the EU's wider framework and the community ceased to exist.

This project of the European Union is systematically evolving into a super state adding a military and political dimension to the initial common economic objective. A common currency “Euro”, European Central Bank, European Court of Justice etc., have been created. The EU of 28 European States is primarily directed by Franco-German axis. The UK has from 1973, never been comfortable with this aspect.

UK government’s defined “special relationship” and close proximity with the United States of America and NATO is another key factor that prevents the UK from taking centre stage in the European Union.

The Conservative and Unionist Party (Tory Party) is bitterly divided on the issue of the European Union.

The right wing forces to cover the failings of neoliberalism use membership of the “European Union” to project their racist anti-immigrant agenda in their respective countries.

Since its formation in 1993, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a right wing populist, Eurosceptic party with a significant presence in the European Parliament campaigns for exiting the European Union.


UK is perhaps one of the first countries that legislated against the free movement of people.

In 1905, the Aliens Act, for the first time introduced immigration controls and registration.  Initially targeted at the movement of Jewish people, successive Tory governments have used this instrument of law to create a racist hostile environment against immigrants. The immigrants are made scapegoats for the failures of capitalism. No explanation is provided or taught for the historical reasons for migration.

David Cameron in January 2013, to gain single party control, in a cynical and arrogant move gambled on the promise of a referendum on the on-going membership of the European Union. This was a direct appeal to the right wing forces and voters of UKIP. The electoral results of 2015 general elections came out in David Cameron’s favour, with the return of a Tory government. Unfortunately for David Cameron, his fate and the manoeuvring space for the government were diminished.

The division among the Tories and to a lesser extent within the Labour Party were played out in public. Campaigns of lies, false news, racist hysteria, economic gains, financial collapse, nightmare scenarios and promises of dreamland totally divided the country.

The results stunned the government, UK voted to leave. With an unprecedented 72.3 per cent taking part in the referendum, 51.9 per cent voted leave and 48.1 per cent to remain with the EU.

David Cameron fell on his own sword and caused a leadership contest, Mrs Theresa May, a “remainer” on July 13, 2016 became Prime Minister.

With parliament’s approval on March 29, 2017, May’s government triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty for a member state to leave the EU. This set the clock ticking for what became popularly known as Brexit.

Theresa May believing that she now had the whole nation behind her and could unite the country to win a landslide victory with a mandate of her own, went to the polls. In June 2017, the electorate provided May a huge setback. May returned to power as a minority government.  The already divided Tories now rely on the 10 MP’s from the Democratic Unionist Party (North Ireland) with a “confidence and supply” agreement and an associated price tag of billions of pounds.

The snap elections opened the way to an alternative agenda to the neoliberal austerity. The pro-Left leadership of the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell projected a different vision and narrative for UK with a comprehensive manifesto. A reinvigorated Labour Party emerged from the general elections.

Following the embarrassing defeat by the electorate, Theresa May’s assembled a cabinet of Brexiteers and remainers. May is into her third Brexit minister, with resignations from senior ministers that the Brexit deal being negotiated and proposed to Parliament as unacceptable; as it is neither Brexit or remain. 

In May’s own words, “Brexit means Brexit” with the UK leaving the single market and the customs union on March 29, 2019. After almost two years of botched up negotiations, there is now a 585 page deal and the proposal of a transitional period with “back stops” to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

May in an attempt to satisfy the warring sections of the Tory Party and maintain the government, has cobbled together a deal that is the worst of all worlds. It is astonishing that a government subjecting vulnerable people to austerity, could be hell-bent on a deal that hands over £39 billion, while giving the EU both the right to impose laws on the UK indefinitely and a veto on ending this state. The proposed back stop has antagonised the DUP and further alienated the people of Ireland and Scotland for being considered differently, albeit for different reasons. Spain and Gibraltar have expressed their concerns with the proposed deal.  One thing this deal delivers is an end to the free movement of people. All migrants from the EU countries living in UK on March 29, 2019 will continue to enjoy the same rights and benefits as they today. However this does not apply to non EU migrants. This discrimination against non EU migrants, like those from India is being challenged by the Indian Workers’ Association.  


There is drama and theatrics in the House of Commons, a live debate is taking place, which will last five days. In a historic rare appearance, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox provided an abridged version of his legal advice to the government. As this is being written, the speaker is considering if the attorney should be censured for contempt of parliament for not disclosing the full information. These are untested waters. The House of Commons is scheduled to vote on December 11, to accept or reject the deal. The mathematics for the government is stacked against the deal being approved.

If the deal is endorsed by parliament, UK exits the EU on March 29, 2019. Negotiations continue around back stops and transition.

If the deal is rejected:

  • A WTO arrangement comes into play.
  • A confidence motion could be moved and a general election called.
  • The notice served under Article 50 withdrawn from the ECJ to allow another referendum.

In the meantime, there is talk of an economic crisis that will be more severe than 2008, impacting trade with threats of “no deal” by the Trump administration, the Bank of England warning of drop in house prices by 30 per cent and  Brexit  predicted to cost £ 100 billion over a decade in their worst scenario model.