Twelve top big business leaders marched into 10 Downing Street last Thursday afternoon to give Theresa May and her Brexit ministers their orders.
Representatives from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors, City gamblers Risk Capital, weapons manufacturers BAE Systems, corporation tax dodgers Tesco, the privatised multinational National Grid company and other firms told the Prime Minister and her Cabinet members that they must make the necessary concessions in order to reach a deal with the EU.
As the Finanical Times reported matters, May “was bluntly invited to back away from the cliff edge.”
CBI director general Carolyn Fairburn, formerly of Lloyds Bank, demanded a lengthy transition deal and continuing close involvement in the EU customs union and single market “feeling that the political tide was moving in her favour.”
These and other business leaders have made little secret of their hope that spinning out Britain’s exit process from the EU will create the conditions in which last year’s referendum result can be frustrated and reversed.
New Lib Dem leader Vince Cable — formerly of the Shell oil corporation and the privatiser of Royal Mail — has volunteered to lead the struggle politically, although the most he can hope for is a return to the post of Business Secretary in another coalition government.
Last Thursday’s corporate missive was received, understood and acted upon immediately.
The following day, Environment Secretary and leading Brexiteer Michael Gove began sounding the retreat by revealing that free movement of people between the EU and Britain could continue for at least two years after March 2019, the deadline for reaching a deal.
Other concessions on this sticky point and others in the exit negotations will follow.
The Morning Star welcomes continuing rights to travel, study and settle across Europe where these can be negotiated on a fair, humane and equitable basis.
Indeed, free from “Fortress Europe” restrictions, British governments should extend those rights to non-European partners and families of British citizens already living here — although it remains to be seen how the EU would respond to such an extension of free movement as part of any future arrangements with Britain.
A shared and major concern of May’s new EU business advisory group and Michel Barnier’s fellow unelected negotiating team is that big business should remain free to move (or “post”) workers around Europe where they can be super-exploited regardless of national or regional legislation and negotiated trade union agreements.
During last week’s negotiations, Barnier made it clear that “posted” workers must be classified as “service providers” and therefore covered by “free trade in services” or “right of establishment” rather than the potentially more restricted “free movement of people” principles.
This is the basis on which legislative and trade union action to enforce equal treatment for them has been outlawed by a stream of EU Court of Justice rulings.
The recent GMB conference was right to sound the alarm about any deal with the EU which allows such super-exploitation to continue.
As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reminded television interviewer Andrew Marr yesterday, free market fundamentalism is no friend of the workers.
The labour movement should oppose any “single market” or “customs union” deal with the EU and leave a future Labour government free to outlaw super-exploitation of labour, regulate trade and the movement of capital, invest in strategic industries and insist on progressive procurement contracts between the public and private sectors.