Maastricht: a bullshit issue
Despite all the heat and thunder generated by the Maastricht treaty, the
debate is not what it seems. Both for the British establishment and the
British people, Maastricht is not the issue.
The Maastricht treaty has become the latest focus for the disputes inside
the British establishment. The economic and political crises confronting
the government are causing fissures in the Tory ranks on all sorts of issues.
Maastricht has provided one more pretext for the government's critics to
wash the Tories' dirty linen in public.
In itself, the debate about Maastricht is lacking in substance. Home secretary
Kenneth Clarke's admission that he had not even read the treaty indicates
that there is no great issue of principle involved. This is confirmed by
the regularity with which so many politicians have changed their positions
on this matter - from cabinet ministers to Tory rebels and members of the
In so far as the Maastricht debate holds any significance, it is a symbolic
one. The real issue at stake for the British establishment in its relations
with Europe is not this or that clause of the Maastricht treaty, but the
decline of Britain as a leading international player. Yet this problem is
not being fought out in the open, because the authorities cannot look it
in the face. Instead, a manufactured debate is taking place about Maastricht.
Maastricht should also be a non-issue for ordinary people in Britain. The
details of the treaty are the last thing keeping most of us awake at night.
While ministers prattle on about
Maastricht, the really important issues are hardly being debated. It is
redundancies, unemployment, wage freezes, spending cuts, mortgage payments,
and housing repossessions that really make a difference to our lives.
Whatever happens to the Maastricht treaty, and regardless of what arrangement
the British government has with Europe, these problems will still be with
us. It is worth recalling that, when Britain joined the ERM in 1990, John
Major said it would mean holding down wages and cutting public spending.
Since Britain left the ERM in September, Major has emphasised that it will
mean...holding down wages and cutting public spending further still. In
or out of Europe, for or against Maastricht, the working class gets the
Asylum: a real one
Unlike the Maastricht treaty, the Asylum Bill is a real issue. Yet it has
generated none of the sound and fury of the debate about Europe.
The Asylum Bill has been used by the government as a sweetener to try to
make its critics fall into line behind Maastricht; the idea being to stress
that the government will not be making any concessions on immigration at
a time when Europe's borders are likely to become more porous. In this sense,
it too has become a focus for settling disputes within the establishment.
Unlike Maastricht, however, the Asylum Bill is going to have serious consequences
for all sorts of people. It will make it harder for asylum- seekers to come
to Britain, and easier for the government to deport them. People detained
by the authorities will have only two days to lodge an appeal. People who
travel through other countries before reaching the UK will not be able to
apply for asylum here in any circumstance. All those applying for asylum,
and their children, will be fingerprinted on arrival. The law will also
remove rights of appeal from all visitors and many students.
Some have suggested that the Asylum Bill will not make much difference,
because the main laws controlling immigration to Britain have been in place
for a long time. But any curtailment of the rights of immigrants and refugees
to enter Britain is insupportable. Once we concede the state's right to
impose even the most tinkering restriction, we have lost the argument.
More importantly, by initiating a debate about bogus refugees, the government
aclimate in which immigrants are seen as a drain on resources at a time
when resources are already stretched to the limit.
When government ministers attach the label of 'scrounger' to refugees and
immigrants to Britain, it is hardly surprising that others draw the conclusion
that they are fair game. Afghan refugee Ruhallah Aramesh, beaten to death
with iron bars by a gang in Thornton Heath in the summer, was a victim of
the racism which has been given an official stamp of approval by the anti-immigrant
debate around the Asylum Bill (see 'In the shadow of the Asylum Bill', Living
Marxism, November 1992). It is a matter of fact that every time the
authorities introduce a new piece of anti-immigrant legislation in parliament,
the number of attacks on black people rises.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 50, December 1992