How bad is the Labour Party’s Brexit policy?

Britain’s main opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the final day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

When I read in a blog that the Labour Party may support Brexit in any second referendum I could scarcely believe it. Could anyone be that misguided?  Such a course of action would be an act of political suicide – a betrayal of its previous Remain position and the vast majority of its members, voters and millions of other potential supporters who opposed Brexit and have looked to Labour as an alternative to the Tories.

When I looked at the interview, the gormless Labour spokesman obviously said more than he wanted, but the interpretation of what he had said wasn’t denied, and the unfortunate fact is that it is as consistent with the party’s actions since the referendum as any other.

Even to think of such an eventuality for a second brings to mind so many ways in which it makes no sense at all, so much so that it is difficult to credit that it would even be considered – unless you were an unreconstructed Blairite hoping to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, and looking for one popular policy to champion opposition to the leadership.

Were such a position to be taken, the majority of Labour voters would vote against its party while the majority of Labour activists would either not campaign or more likely campaign against it. The Labour Party would find itself scrambling for the votes of Leavers who were committed Tories, UKIPers or backward workers who don’t normally vote or have voted Labour but are still wedded to the most reactionary prejudices despite their tribal loyalty.

It would be the culmination of a Brexit policy of non-opposition to the most inept Tory Government for decades, from what on paper is the most radical leadership of the Party for decades, if not ever.

But how else can we describe the quick reversal of opposition to Brexit after the referendum, or the policy that looks very like the one May has been forced into, or the moaning that if only she had worked with Labour a consensus approach to implementing Brexit could have been achieved?  All capped off in the past few weeks by a section of the Tories themselves raising a vote of no confidence in their leader – before the official opposition – and doing more to weaken the leadership and the Government than any of the secret and bizarre parliamentary manoeuvres promised by Labour.

So what on earth could be used to justify such an approach?  Luckily (?) I have just read an apologia for Labour’s strategy that attempts to provide some justification for it.

The attempt is trapped within what Marxists have called parliamentary cretinism and consists of a number of diversions that take us away from the main issue, including the claim that before anything else can be done the absolute priority is defeating Theresa May’s deal and no deal.  While it correctly characterises Brexit as harmful to working class interests it gracelessly slides into arguing that a hard Brexit is the real problem.

It claims that continuing to oppose Brexit after the referendum would be “seriously damaging electorally’, straight after acknowledging the overwhelming support of Labour members and voters for Remain.  Like every apology for capitulation to Leave’s essentially reactionary constituency not a thought is given to the dangers involved in betraying Remain supporters – they are just congratulated on their discipline.

Instead we are informed we must wait until some Leavers change their minds, forced by the course of events and the failure of the Tories, before Labour can show leadership by openly opposing Brexit as well.  That Labour itself might help to change minds or have their predictions of inevitable Brexit failure confirmed, so gaining support and confidence from voters, is not proposed.

Not surprisingly, since the Labour policy of a good Brexit, like that of the Tories, also claims Brexit can be delivered with all the benefits, including frictionless trade, even though this claim has now been comprehensively debunked.  Nothing that has happened since the referendum can be seen to support any of the promises made for Brexit.  Yet rather than run with the tide of events, the Party has followed incoherently behind, having all its claims rubbished through the repeated humiliation of the Tories.

The argument in defence of the Labour leadership approach points to polls showing the unpopularity of Theresa May’s deal as validation of its strategy.  The sacrifice of principle involved in failing to oppose the attack on workers’ interests, which the article says is the great guiding principle of Corbyn’s approach to Brexit, is forgotten, while there is no recognition of the effect of Tory failure on voters’ confidence that Labour’s Brexit deal would be any more likely to succeed.

Despite reference to the recognition by Corbyn himself that Brexit is the most important issue facing the House of Commons in the 35 years he has been in it, the argument is put that the most important issue is the formation of a Corbyn led Government itself, with “a Jeremy Corbyn led government after a Brexit . . . better for the working class than no Brexit but with a non-Corbyn led Labour Party.”

This is presented as the issue “in the clearest terms” when in fact the alternatives are put in order to cloud the essential choice facing the Party.  It is an argument that says that what makes a Corbyn Government important is not what it does but simply that it exists.

But Brexit will undermine the grounds for a Corbyn Government through weakening the economy and reducing the scope for reversing austerity.  The article recognises the harmful effects of Brexit but this is more or less ignored when it comes to supporting the policy of a ‘good’ Labour Brexit.

These criticisms are even before we take into account more fundamental issues – such as why Corbyn thinks the British state is so uniquely capable of progressive reform that it must separate from the rest of the EU, while the other states that form the rest of it are condemned to languish under austerity. What does this say for any professed belief in workers’ unity.  Or are British workers also uniquely incapable of uniting with those in other countries to advance common interests?

Apart from capitulation to the Leave position following the referendum (are the rest of us supposed to do this too?), the most obvious problem with Labour’s position is its idea that any Brexit deal could be good for British workers.  If this was true why did it not support Brexit in the first place?  If not, why support it now?

The problem of course is the same as that facing Theresa May’s proposed deal – that hoping to retain all the benefits of EU membership while incurring no costs is simply unobtainable, and robs anyone saying it of credibility.  The idea peddled by nostalgic-for-the-Empire Leavers that the EU would bow down to the demands of Great Britain have been quashed and it doesn’t really matter who asks. In fact, if the EU is governed solely be neoliberal bureaucrats there is more reason assume they would be kinder to Theresa May than to Jeremy Corbyn.

The article states that:

“It is not crucial at all whether Britain is inside or outside the political structures of the EU – that is whether Britain is formally a member of the EU. What is important is that the British economy has the best access to the EU market (as without that it cannot find a large enough market for efficient production), that it has the best access to imported inputs for its own industries (as in a modern economy supply chains are international in scope) etc. Without these, in present conditions, whole industries, such as cars, would be devastated, with huge loss of jobs, while the plunge in the exchange rate of the pound that would follow would be highly inflationary and reduce real wages. All these economic effects would be seriously damaging to working class living standards. Therefore, what is important is access to the economic structures of the EU – the Customs Union, the Single Market etc. That is why Labour’s six tests for any deal with the EU all focus on the economy.”

We are invited to accept that political membership of the EU doesn’t matter. Yet we are also told to accept that the Labour deal will have the “exact same benefits” as membership; that it will pass its six tests, which include defending rights and protections and preventing a race to the bottom, while protecting national security and ensuring “fair management of migration”.

The Party policy therefore has its own variety of have cake and eat it, so that it wants to exit the political arrangements but still have “a British say in future trade deals’ (according to Jeremy Corbyn).  It seems innocent of any idea that the EU will take further economic and political steps that will seek to strengthen its project and affect Britain, which will have no say in the shape of this development.  Because this “is not crucial at all”.

John McDonnell has said of the EU that ‘They’ve seen this deal isn’t going to work, so therefore other opportunities will have to be explored. And they want the best optimum solution that will protect the European economy overall, just as we wish to protect the UK economy.”

But, as has been explained again and again, the EU is prepared to suffer some economic losses due to Brexit because it would potentially face much greater losses if other nationalist parties sought similar loss-free exits from the Union.  Of course the losses suffered by Britain will be much greater, that is why the EU can accept a no deal in a way that Britain cannot, but then this is true, and an inevitable consequence, of Brexit in any shape or form.  Clever parliamentary games by the Labour Party can change nothing fundamental about this.

The article excuses its sacrifice of principle and its acknowledgement of the harmful effects of Brexit by stating that:

“There are some issues on which a position must be taken regardless of the state of public opinion – war, the death penalty, sexism, racism. But Brexit is not one of these issues – Labour is rightly taking into account not only the objective impact of Brexit but public opinion and cannot vote, and no one proposes, to implement Remain if it is clear public opinion supports Leave.”

But no one has ever said, just as this author does, that they are sacrificing all their principles, just the ones – like opposing Brexit – that aren’t really supposed to be principles at all.  “Seriously damaging to working class living standards” is not apparently a principle that the new leadership of the Labour Party should fight for “regardless of public opinion”.  And the thought that public opinion could be won to what is becoming more and more obvious is apparently not worth thinking about either.

This stumbling and incoherent policy on Brexit does not bode well for those investing hope in the new Labour leadership, but it is good that the rank and file are now pushing for a stronger anti-Brexit policy.  They should continue with this and consider why it has been necessary. Why has the leadership itself not led on this?  What is it about the leadership’s perspective on how a society of equals could be created that it excludes committing to a European resistance to austerity and an international unity of workers?

Labour Party members should recognise this need to push and continue to push, until it has a leadership that not only follows the views of the membership, but also leads members in the struggle.

It is sincerely to be hoped that the views expressed on the Andrew Marr show do not become policy. If they do, the Labour Party will be cutting its own throat.

Labour Party strategy and the Brexit deal

Opportunism is by definition to seek short term gain while sacrificing long term principle.  The short term gain often doesn’t arise and the long term loss is long term.  I thought of this when I read an article in ‘The Guardian’ about Labour Party views on how to approach the Brexit deal just agreed with the EU by Theresa May.  I know you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers but unfortunately it is consistent with what we have seen, so I decided to write.

Small points are instructive.  Apparently those opposing Brexit are jokingly referred to as ‘Remonia’, which would include the majority of Labour voters and the vast majority of its members.  We are obviously still some way off from a membership led party.

Aside from this dismissal of its support, this reference has to ignore the damaging impact Brexit will have to working class interests and the potential undermining of the whole Corbyn social-democratic project. In the world of electoralism however the most loyal support is often taken for granted in a chase for the floating voter.

The article says that “Labour strategists believe they cannot get to the 45% or so of the vote they would need to win the next election if they are seen to represent only what they jokingly refer to as “Remoania”.

Whatever happened to convincing people of the truth of your politics, of changing their minds, of anticipating the effect of future events on their consciousness so that longer-term they can begin to see that what you are saying is correct?  There wouldn’t be a Labour Party in the first place if this approach hadn’t been taken!

Of Labour strategists, the article says that “some hold out the hope that Labour could pick up many of the leave-backing voters who feel sold out by the prime minister’s deal.  They’re available to us provided we don’t sound like remainers.”

Unfortunately, such an approach comes easily to the devotees of the idea of progressive politics in one country, which now cripples the Labour Party’s approach to Brexit, as it has crippled socialist politics for decades.

And what are Remain voters supposed to think when the Party sounds like Brexiteers instead?  Or are all these working class Labour voters and members assumed to be terminally stupid?  Are they to be treated the same way as the Scottish Labour support was, assumed away until Scottish nationalism bit into them and reduced the party to third place?

Another small point.  The article say that “In Corbyn’s inner circle, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has told friends she is on a “vigil” against any move that could alienate Labour supporters in staunchly remain seats such as her constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington.”

But then we are told that “Abbott is among those shadow cabinet members who have publicly expressed concern about the risks of a second referendum. She told the BBC’s Nick Robinson last week: “People should be careful what they wish for, because my view is that if we had a second referendum tomorrow leave would win again and not only would leave win again but leave voters would say what didn’t you understand about leave winning the first time?”

When you think about this, it is really a rather big point.  The article quotes an opinion poll which says “that Internal research is telling the party that 42% of voters think the deal negotiated by the prime minister will be worse than staying in the EU; against only 21% who believe it will be better. Voters have also told Labour’s pollsters – by a two to one margin – that they support MPs’ right to vote it down if they think it is damaging for the country.”

So why does a strong ‘Remainer’ think a second vote would be lost?

Of course the Labour Party position is to get a general election rather than a second referendum.  But this doesn’t answer the question so much as ask it.

The article approaches this problem, but only in so far as it touches on the fortunes of the party itself.  Like all Brexit coverage from the mainstream media, everything is seen through the lens of UK domestic politics and the fortunes of individual prominent politicians. The issue of Brexit itself is often dismissed, as is the view of the EU itself, and the population told by those paid to inform them that they are fed up hearing about it.  As the article in the Guardian puts it – “the majority of the public . . . say they want Brexit to be over and done with.”

If all I had to go on was this mass media I would be fed up with it as well.  But such views are from people who haven’t really thought about it enough and want other people to make their decisions for them, so that when they suffer from them they can then have someone to blame.  Exactly the opposite of what socialism requires, which is a population eager to take the reins away from the bumbling ruling class that has shown itself incompetent at the political level and complacent at the economic.

The article reports that Jeremy Corbyn has said that “this is a bad deal for the country . . . It is the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds. It gives us less say over our future, and puts jobs and living standards at risk. “That is why Labour will oppose this deal in parliament. We will work with others to block a no-deal outcome, and ensure that Labour’s alternative plan for a sensible deal to bring the country together is on the table.”

And this is the problem.

May’s deal is a capitulation that appears to postpone its application, even though this is only partially true.  It is essentially a recognition that no deal would be a disaster and admission that all her ‘red lines’ were so much hot air. Her ‘people’s letter’ is either a letter to Santa or simply one lie after another.  The EU has strengthened its position through the transitional period and will impose its view on the new trading arrangements once this period ends.

The EU has also had enough warnings on the danger of a Britain outside the EU seeking to undermine it and its further development. The only perspective for Britain outside the EU is to act as a rival in such a way, most likely to the benefit of other powers.

This explains the re-emergence of the EEA/ EFTA as an option to be pursued during and after the transition.  But the ‘Norway’ option is woefully inadequate to Britain’s needs as it still leaves it with a lack of decision making powers in its arrangements with the EU and requires numerous individual agreements to complete these arrangements.  A temporary membership of EFTA, as put forward by some, might smooth the exit but would leave the essential future relationships unresolved, with Britain still alone at the end and exposed to the influence of stronger powers, including the EU.

Norway would be foolish to accept such membership. It would be akin to some desperate sleaze-ball coming up to you on the dance floor at the end of the night, asking for a shag, but saying he’s only asking you out because he fancies your mate.

In other words the options open to May are those open to Corbyn and May is right that the EU has no reason to give the Labour Party a better deal.  It has been remarked upon by many people beside myself that Corbyn’s idea of a good Brexit is even more delusional than Theresa May’s, or that of the other Tory ultra-Brexiteers.

Having made herself look stupid and pathetic so that, to quote the Guardian article again, only 21% of the population believe her deal will be better than staying in the EU, Corbyn’s strategy appears to be to repeat the failure.  If anything would open the door to a potential recapture of the Labour Party by its right wing, this is it.

The Guardian states that “a general election would risk exposing the bitter tensions within the party about Brexit. The leadership is clear it would want to go into an election promising to press ahead with leaving the EU, but strike a less economically damaging deal.”

So the Labour Party would go into an election on a platform that would alienate the mass of its membership and the majority of its voters; damage the economy and weaken the basis for its policies of growth and redistribution; and repeat the same failed strategy of the opposition while hoping for a different result – the clichéd definition of insanity.

And all this is based on the hope that Brexit voters will seek to punish Theresa May for her failure to deliver on her promises of a hard Brexit, while preventing them from going to UKIP.

Rather than expose the increasingly apparent illusions justifying Brexit and those who support it, and point out its complete failure, demonstrated again and again through the Brexiteers themselves avoiding responsibility for implementation of the referendum result, but ready to blame anyone who tries and fails; the Labour Party may now seek to present itself as the next bunch of suckers seeking to do the impossible on behalf of the delusional to the benefit of the totally deranged.

Brexit humiliated . . . again

Supporters of Brexit claimed it would ‘bring back control’ and allow Britain to agree more favourable trade deals with the rest of the world.  It was also argued by some that a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest to agree and that the EU would rush to conclude it, such was the importance of Britain to the rest of Europe.

When the EU took control of the negotiations and stated that it wasn’t even going to discuss a trade deal until other matters were sorted first the illusions of the Brexiteers were exposed as fantasy.

So instead they threatened the EU with a no deal scenario – “no deal is better than a bad deal” they said, in a reformulation of the claim that the EU needs Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

Now we have Theresa May arguing that the draft withdrawal agreement must be supported because no deal would be so awful that it cannot possibly be allowed, and hers is the only alternative. Gone are the claims that a trade deal with the EU will be easy to agree, and so ridiculous is the notion that the EU will rush to agree one that no one even thinks to ridicule it.

Boris Johnson claimed that the EU could “go whistle” for their divorce money and Britain would “have cake and eat it”,but now the draft withdrawal deal requires that Britain pay its money, and more besides for the period of the withdrawal, although it does involve “have cake and eat it.”  It’s just that it is the EU that will have cake and eat it – the UK will have to accept its rules, and in various areas not regress from them; will have to continue to pay into the EU; will have to accept new rules agreed during the period of the deal, and will have a veto over any attempt by Britain to remove the Irish backstop that will remain until a new deal with the EU is agreed, sometime in the future.  And of course, any new deal will reflect the imbalance of power between the UK and EU which produced the draft deal.

So far is the withdrawal deal removed from ‘taking back control’ that this is its defining feature – that Britain will submit to rules and relinquishes any influence over them.  Britain will leave the EU through an interim deal that has been agreed because alternative deals have stupidly been rejected by the Tory Government as beneath it.

But the can has only been kicked down the road, so that fatal choices have only been postponed, and when they come they will also be framed by the same imbalance of power that has given birth to the withdrawal deal. In the longer term this will simply be unacceptable to British capitalism.

So the deal does not so much postpone a final Brexit deal as anticipate it, because any sort of final trade deal following Brexit will see Britain subject to the same forces that have resulted in this humiliation. Any fanciful notion that the USA or China will be more accommodating than the EU in a future trading arrangement belongs in the same category as ‘have cake and eat it.”  The decline of British imperialism, and its relative weakness, is laid bare and its competitors are not going to ignore it or let it pass unexploited.

No wonder it is on the question of control that those opposed to the deal have seized.  This weakness, which even ultra Brexiteers have cottoned on to in their own infantile way, is the only possible reason they are now calling for no deal as the alternative – because they can’t get a better one.

It’s why two leading Brexiteers, despite supposedly being in charge of the negotiations, have condemned their outcome.  Why all Brexit ministers have not resigned and why the detested Theresa May is still leader of the Tory Party and Prime Minister.  No one wants her job, or at least not now and not yet.

But what applies to the Tories applies equally to the Labour Party and its alternative, which gets more obscure by the day.  Any putative Corbyn deal is subject to the same imbalance of forces, and claims that it can deliver a ‘jobs Brexit’ become ever less credible as a result of Tory failure.

That this is the case is in itself a condemnation of the failure to oppose Brexit and explain that there cannot be a good Brexit, and that the best option was to continue to argue for Remain.  Had this been done the Labour Party could now claim some credit.

Instead it relies on the Tories cutting their own throat, and the continuing hopes among its members and supporters that at some point the Party will oppose leaving.  And while it has said it will vote against May’s deal, its claims that it can negotiate a better one appear wafer-thin and its rationale for opposing May’s deal just as slim.  It follows the ultra Brexiteers in its current defence of a possible good Brexit by condemning May’s draft deal because of its commitment to having to obey rules while having no say over them.

It’s rather like the incredible story in ‘The Independent’ in which a Tory Brexit MP slams the deal because Britain will have no influence in Europe and will have no MEPs or Commissioner!

And what of the supporters of Lexit, who must oppose the May deal on precisely the same grounds? While Tory supporters of leaving the EU thought Britain could gain strength from Brexit the supporters of Lexit thought it would weaken the British State, as it will, ignoring the effect this would have in weakening that state’s potential to carry out the anti-austerity and state-led development policies they support.

Unfortunately, both share the same illusion that national solutions are better than international ones and on this both are wrong.  The supporters of Lexit think a progressive British State can end austerity and be the motor of progressive economic development on a national basis, while Tory Brexiteers foresee a deregulated, free market tax haven on the shores of Europe.  Both ignore the fact that the rest of Europe doesn’t disappear just because Britain leaves the EU and that the EU will not allow a threat to it to develop in either left or right forms.

Both capitalism and certainly socialism seeks and requires solutions at the international level, and while it may be possible to envisage a large offshore tax haven it is impossible to envisage a progressive island of socialism off Europe’s coast.

If the Lexiteers even got that far, which they couldn’t, they would suddenly find that they needed the rest of Europe’s working class to help them. And if they think that their example of splitting will inspire these workers then there won’t be a European working class to appeal to, just a collection of 27 other fragments of that class, all supporting their national roads to socialism, or nationalist xenophobic competition more likely, if they really did follow the British example.

It is no accident that today Theresa May has gone back to the most reactionary justification for Brexit in order to defend her deal – the idea that it will allow increased immigration controls that will apparently allow Britain’s young people to get jobs and training. As if it wasn’t austerity and Tory education policies that were the problem but foreign workers.

She has claimed that workers from the EU will not be able to “jump the queue”, except of course when the UK eventually, if ever, agrees a free trade deal with the EU, in which case the EU will want particular rights for its citizens.  The claims for Brexit never cease and never appear.

With this deal they have been postponed.  Promises made but not delivered, which will encourage true Brexit believers to rant ever more aggressively and their leaders to seek ever more scapegoats for their failure to deliver.

If the Tories, with the important assistance of the EU, were to succeed in pushing this deal through, the right-wing dynamic of Brexit would not be stopped or tempered but would continue to unfold. Hopes that a general election will lead to a Corbyn Government would place the burden of Brexit delivery on it, and without a policy of opposing Brexit such a government would have no mandate to reverse it.  Whoever in the Labour party thinks this is smart politics needs put out to pasture.

The Labour party should point to the current mess as the inevitable result of Brexit which is so bad the alternative offered by the Tories is only worse.  Only a fight to Remain can address the political turmoil by offering a way out.

A Labour Party Brexit

It used to be the case that the British Labour Party conference was interesting and important, because it involved real debate and some chance that the left could win victories.  Then Kinnock and Blair deprived it of this significance and crushed party democracy, such as it was.  The mass media, if I recall correctly, was not much concerned by this.

Now, the Labour Party conference is relevant again, it is interesting and important, the left can make advances and democracy has made some sort of return, and the mass media is concerned.

Unfortunately, this being the Labour Party, we are also going back to the bad old days when union bureaucrats would frustrate this democracy, cobbling together back-room deals that mollified the right in the party while taming the left.  So, the overwhelming desire for open selection of MPs, that they should have themselves put up for endorsement by the people who get them elected – the party members, was prevented from being voted on and passed.

Democracy in the Party has always been imperfect like this, but it is easy to forget that democracy in the unions is probably worse in many cases, and democracy in the left groups definitely worse.  If even Momentum was as democratic as the Party it seeks to democratise the left would be far stronger, and more democratic.

A similar thing happened to the views of the membership on Brexit.  The vast majority oppose it and want another referendum to reverse it.  The leadership of the Party have attempted to frustrate this movement.  In doing so, their views hark back to the most reactionary nationalist ideas about socialism which used to revolve around import controls to protect British jobs; nationalisation, with emphasis on NATIONalisation; and opposition to the EEC.

Of course, they claim to be internationalists, but their internationalism is of a very restricted kind.  It’s more a sort of solidarity of left nationalisms, just like ‘national liberation’ movements support each other in their desire to set up separate, and nominally independent, states.  They are suspicious and opposed to a unity that swears loyalty, not to its own nation and state, but to the unity of its class regardless of nationality.

No one is claiming that the vast majority of the members of the Labour Party subscribe to Marxist ideas about international workers’ unity, but they do realise the disastrous consequences of capitalist separation from the EU and the reactionary nationalist politics behind it.

So, it is on this basis that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has thwarted the desire to have a second referendum and has held the ground against coming out squarely against Brexit.  It has nevertheless been forced to have the debate, when it was able to prevent one last year, revealing that the current mangled and incoherent policy has a use by date that is rapidly running out.

Labour policy is open and clear – it is not seeking to reverse Brexit but to deliver a good Brexit.  One that defends jobs and living standards as well as maintaining regulations which support workers’ rights and protect the environment.

Tory ineptitude, in-fighting, mad-as-a-hatter ideas about a free market nirvana, and normal anti-Tory antipathy have not been enough to divert Labour members from recognising that the leadership’s position is wrong.

In many statements this policy seems to suffer from the same level of ignorance as the Tories.  Its repetition of the importance of a customs union ignores the much more vital role of the Single Market.  The former will not remove the need for a ‘hard’ border in Ireland while it won’t prevent huge trade frictions for Britain.  In its illusion that some sort of progressive Brexit is possible its position is actually worse than the Tories.

Its six tests cannot possibly be met by any deal, including any deal the Labour leadership could possibly negotiate itself. It wants a deal “to deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union.”  But the EU has made it absolutely clear, repeatedly, that Britain will inevitably be worse off because of Brexit.  It even admits that the EU itself will suffer.

Pressure from within the Party and the logic of the evolving process have compelled Jeremy Corbyn, in his conference leader’s speech, to state clearly that the Party is set to vote against any deal Theresa May comes up with, and will also oppose no deal.  So perhaps it might be said that the mass membership opposed to Brexit, and the leadership in favour of going ahead with it in some form, are going to arrive at the same destination by different routes.  Both roads seemingly leading to opposition to Brexit.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with such a view. Firstly, if no deal is agreed or approved by Parliament there will be a no deal exit, unless the EU itself postpones this eventuality itself, through some sort of extension, or fudge that allows the transition period to kick in.  But in this case the problem is postponed not avoided.  Such a scenario is a cross-your-fingers-and-toes wish that the ‘better prepared for a no deal’ EU is not yet prepared enough.  Simply running out of time is not unthinkable.

And what if time did run out and Theresa May claimed that it was the Labour Party which scuppered her deal and was now responsible for a no deal outcome?  How would Labour deal with that if the EU said ‘times up – you’re out!’

Undoubtedly the Tories have made such a hash of things that they would continue to shoulder much of the blame, and deservedly so. A no deal situation would have arisen where they had continued to push a plan that the EU had repeatedly said was unacceptable.  The Labour Party would then also have to rely on continued lack of scrutiny of its own proposals., which otherwise might reveal that they would not be accepted either.

But if the Tories were backed down to agree a deal that the EU would accept, even for a transition period, the Labour Party might find itself in strange company voting against it.  Failing to prevent the deal going through in this situation might be the least of its possible failures.

If it succeeded in voting down such a deal it would be much harder for the Labour Party to pin the blame for no deal on the Tories, and their own proposals would come under greater scrutiny, revealing the reality that their criteria cannot be delivered by any potential Brexit deal.  There would be no reason why both the Tories and EU would not jointly blame the Labour Party for the subsequent disaster.

Secondly, even if all went well and a general election was held, which Labour won, it would quickly become clear that it could not deliver a Brexit deal which would pass its own tests.  In other words, it would also have to deliver no deal or deliver something that would be inferior to EU membership.  Both would antagonise its Remain members and supporters, and also antagonise those voters who continued to support Brexit.

Of course, these voters are deluding themselves in believing that Brexit could deliver anything that was any good.  But who would have fed them this illusion and who would now be responsible for failing to deliver on it?  It would not just be the Tories. Now it would also be the Labour Party, the Party who had promised that a good Brexit was possible and had failed to deliver it.

If the Labour Party also backed down and agreed a deal that was acceptable to the EU this would be something on the lines of EEA membership or Canada-style free trade agreement.  The latter would rather quickly demonstrate how much inferior to EU membership this is for British capitalism, but would still require an extensive period of negotiations where British weakness would be exposed.  The former would require perhaps even greater negotiations, not just with the EU but with other EFTA countries.  The former leaves Britain’s role in the world hanging and unresolved and the second is not a long-term solution for anyone, for it would leave Britain as a rule taker in a small club instead of one of the leaders of the large club it had just left.

However, long before any of this became obvious, it would be clear that the Labour Party had not won over the majority of the fans of Brexit through delivering it, but would instead be savaged by them for having sold Brexit out, for having delivered Brexit in name only, a betrayal of Brexit, of all the benefits to the British people that were possible and that had been promised. And again, we would be back to the question – who was it that promised a good Brexit?

Labour leaders such as John McDonnell have embarrassed themselves and the movement they lead by proclaiming fears that Brexit cannot be stopped because it would provoke a violent reaction from the hard right. But since there isn’t going to be a good Brexit some sort of reaction like this is almost inevitable.  In this case, one delivered via a Labour Party promising that their Brexit would be so different would be a real promise broken, and would provoke an even more violent reaction from the hard-right.

There is of course a way to avoid these scenarios, but this requires being honest with workers and stating that Brexit is a disaster that must be opposed.  That if the Labour Party was elected it would reverse the decision or, at the very least, would hold another referendum to do so.  Otherwise Labour, having bought Brexit, would then own it, including all the shit that would come with it.

It would have no argument to put to Brexit supporters who would say that it had failed to deliver on its promises, and it would have nothing to say to its own supporters who would have opposed it.

Jeremy Corbyn may think his current approach to Brexit is politically shrewd, but reality is currently crushing Tory Brexit dreams and it will just as surely do the same to Labour.

The members and supporters of the Party should continue their opposition to Brexit and argue a socialist alternative.  The stronger such a movement becomes the clearer it will be that the current Labour policy is not only wrong from a principled point of view but ruinous to its future.

Ironically, it might only be the referendum that it is trying to avoid that might save the Party leadership, since it would be compelled to oppose Brexit and once again argue for Remain.

Never mind Brexit?

When I wrote against Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum I noted that one of the strongest motivators of many in the Yes campaign was the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the campaign itself, not the actual goal.  The latter promised wonderful things but these were free floating and detached from reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could make up for the lack of any realistic case.  Instead, the campaign itself gave tangible reality to the demand for independence.

It is now apparent that this is a cause that has to have such a movement, now through Indyref2, or it starts to crumble. The Scottish working class dodged a bullet when the majority of people in Scotland voted No.  Even prominent supporters of independence and erstwhile opponents of austerity are now saying that independence would need five years of austerity to work.  Of course, we’re told it would only be temporary, but then so is Tory austerity. When is austerity not temporary?

I was reminded of this when I read Owen Jones article in today’s ‘Guardian’, whose headline said it all – ‘As the media obsess over Brexit, they’re missing Labour’s revolution.’  In other words – forget about Brexit and look at the movement for change in the Party.

If you think my characterising this position is not really forgetting about Brexit, then consider the report – again in ‘The Guardian’ – that, “on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McDonnell said it could not be guaranteed that Labour’s position on the single market would be finalised if there was an election in six months.”

When Theresa May made her Florence speech last week much media coverage concentrated on her ‘change of tone’ from the bombastic declarations of her Lancaster House speech. The usual in-depth reporting perhaps.

The media repeatedly tells us that Brexit is fiendishly complex while generally ignoring this complexity; although now and then it makes pathetic attempts to explain it; that is when it’s not wallowing in the knockabout political manoeuvring at Westminster and, as it has done from the start, treating Brexit as mainly an intra-Tory fight.  On this occasion however, the obviously superficial attributes of the speech were indeed the most significant thing about it.

Where the media failed yet again, was to explain why this change of tone came about. Or how the rest of the speech was actually a continuation of the La La Land Tory dream of Brexit, which some more informed commentators think will, to the Brexiteers delight, be delivering Brexit before Christmas.  Again unfortunately, before the Labour Party might decide to get its act together.

What appeared as the most significant policy initiative was May’s statement that there had to be a transitional phase, which she couldn’t even force herself to describe as a transition.  In this transition she hopes that some unspecified super trade deal, unlike any other, can be negotiated; one that will save the UK from the consequences of Brexit.

This reflects simply that Brexit is a looming disaster, with the hope that it can be made less so by postponing it, perhaps similarly to the way it is said that justice delayed is justice denied.  Unfortunately for her, and for us, Brexit won’t be delayed, or at least not by anything she’s doing.

May’s transition assumes more or less continued EU membership, perhaps without EU judicial authority continuing, which even the most ignorant must surely know is not possible.  Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator has made it clear again and again, immediately before and immediately after May’s speech, that the UK is leaving the EU in March 2019.  If it wants to discuss anything else, it has to first sort out the rights of EU citizens in the UK, agree the financial settlement for leaving, and propose a special deal to avoid a new border in Ireland.

May made unspecified promises on citizens’ rights, offered £20 billion – which I’m sure the EU welcomes although that is quite beside the point – and said nothing about Ireland.  In other words, the UK is heading for the exit with no deal unless it practically addresses these three issues, and that includes any deal on a transition.  They have been calling it a cliff edge for a while now.

Clearly the bitterly divided Tories are drowning and trying to take everyone down with them, if allowed.  Their position on Brexit is incoherent.  They cannot possibly get the trade deal they say they want, one that gives them more or less the same arrangements as retaining single market membership while leaving the EU.  To get the former they must ditch the latter, or rather to get the latter they must ditch the former.

The problem is that the Labour Party’s position, in so far as it has one, is now perhaps even more delusional than the Tories’.  Certainly, the Labour Party demanded a transitional deal before the Tories, but only the blind could have believed that the exit terms could be agreed, and then new arrangements negotiated, within Article 50 requirements.  These requirements were written precisely to ensure it made no sense to use them.  A classical Catch 22 – to get out you must use them but if you use them it shows it makes no sense to get out.

But Labour too wants just the same sort of wonderful trade deal as the Tories while leaving the EU.  ‘The Guardian’ article reports the following – “Speaking later at an event with Labour’s MEPs, Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU.”

This is as much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ policy as the Tories.  Leaving the EU means the UK becomes a third country, so it will have to face barriers to trade.  New trading arrangements will take potentially years to negotiate and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry-pick what it will buy into and what it will not.  There is no point looking at existing comparators because the UK is the only country ever to seek to leave.  It is both too important to let cherry-pick the power wielded by the EU bloc and too weak to impose its demands.

What sets the Labour Party position apart is not the claim that it can have a Brexit that cherry-picks the best bits, but one that appears to believe that you can have a Brexit that puts “jobs and living standards first.”  Such a Brexit does not exist.  Trading barriers and their consequences will hit both – that’s how capitalism works.

Socialists opposed to Brexit have argued that socialism cannot be built in one country, cannot arise by separating the UK or any other country from the international capitalist system, but can only arise from an international struggle for international socialism based on existing global development.

in more immediate terms however, socialists will not build an alternative by acceding to a Brexit policy that can only damage jobs and services and reduce wages, processes already in train, while blithely claiming the opposite.  No amount of social democratic intervention by the UK state can ameliorate the effects of increased isolation from the world capitalist market, or the alternative of supplicant trade deals with major power blocs.

The traditional socialist value of international solidarity is based on the identity of interest among workers in all countries because these interests can only be defended successfully together.  We are not talking merely of identification of common interests, but the identity of circumstances at the most basic level.  Socialist advances cannot be successful if not extended internationally, or imposed, for example at a European level, from the very start.

Just as in Scotland, celebrating the movement while ignoring the goal is a mistake; a Brexit Britain under a Corbyn Labour Party will fail, just as similarly if not identically, a separate Scotland would also fail to advance the interest of workers there.

There is still time to dodge the Brexit bullet; but if or when it comes don’t ask why everything is turning to shit – “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  How appropriate this passage starts with “no man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent.”

How the Many struck back against the Few

It’s only when you consider the situation on 18 April that you can truly appreciate the dramatic advance taken by the British working class during the general election.  Theresa May called the election when the Tories had a poll lead of over 20 percentage points and when her personal approval ratings were even higher.

It followed a Brexit referendum that had unleashed a wave of xenophobia and racism which the Tory Party planned to milk in order to crush and overwhelm any opposition.  We would then face Brexit negotiations where every rebuttal of Tory Brexit delusions would be used as an opportunity to whip up anti-foreigner rhetoric that would cement Tory hegemony.

Now that strategy lies in tatters, that project is in chaos and the initiative lies not with Brexit reaction but with a left-wing counter-offensive.  Far from being the impregnable leader and worthy inheritor of the mantle of the “Iron Lady”, May has rather quickly become a figure of fun.  In the campaign “Strong and Stable” came to be considered as the first words of a child – repeated endlessly in all the most out of place circumstances.  Maybot became the battery-driven toy that bangs into the wall and continues to bang into it because it cannot know any better.

Instead of the Tories’ Brexit hero, one Tory MP has described her thus – “We all fucking hate her. But there is nothing we can do. She has totally fucked us.”

The most important point of this little articulation of Tory comradeship is the bit where he says “but there is nothing we can do.”  Labour is now ahead in the polls and the Tories are terrified of another election that they simply can’t go into with Maybot in charge.

So how did all this happen?  First, it’s necessary to accept that the Tories huge lead in the polls was not a mirage, even if it may not have been so commanding as it appeared.  The polls were correct to show a narrowing of the Tory lead as the campaign went on and while some were ultimately more accurate than others, all showed an initial huge lead that in previous general elections would have meant a certain Tory victory.

The answer lies in understanding that Jeremy Cobyn’s success shows the correctness of the Marxist conception of politics, even if this was proven by a non-Marxist party.  In contrast, the media pundits have been floundering and cruelly exposed, not that you would have noticed it.  With a brass neck a blow-torch couldn’t mark they simultaneously expressed shock at the result and know-it-all opinion pieces on how they got it wrong.  As the saying goes: opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one, although it’s not everyone who expels such quantities of shite.

Even after the vote I came across this from the ‘Financial Times’ lead journalist covering the election.  When speaking of a possible Tory-DUP coalition he writes – “But all coalitions, formal or otherwise, require horse trading and compromise – something May is not naturally suited to. Her trademark skill is to decide on a policy position and stick it to.”  Bias becomes so ingrained it becomes an unthinking habit that kicks in when the world is not as you believe it is and you are unable to process the meaning of events.  Thus you end up with nonsense like this.

Now the media is attempting to undermine Corbyn by giving space to those Blairites and soft left figures in the Party who got it so spectacularly wrong but now claim that having won the left vote he now needs to tack to the centre.  While some of these people just denigrate his achievements others offer praise only to bury him later.  Meanwhile the media want to know is he going to give these losers prominent posts in the party now that their plans for another coup or for setting up a rival organisation are blown out of the water.

The election showed the impact of media bias and the effect of the relaxation of such bias that general elections allow. Election coverage means less filtered access to the policies and personalities of the parties so while Corbyn soared, Maybot tanked.  That the bias continued during the campaign also confirmed the limits of mainstream media spin.  It remains a barrier but one that can be overcome.

More importantly the elections showed the importance to politics of political programme, political leadership and mass mobilisation of workers.

For the first time in decades, and the first time ever for many younger voters, there actually appeared to be a difference in the policies being proposed by the different parties.  There can be no denying the impact and importance of the Labour manifesto; it became a reference point that exposed the vacuity of the Tory ‘alternative’ and its policies became the content of the campaign day after day.

It became the meat in the sandwich of the slogan ‘for the many not the few’.  It set out exactly what the Party’s policies were, which people could consider and make up their mind about, and made for something positive that they could read about or hear presented in television debates.  Presented properly it shone like a beacon set against inane Tory slogans and an empty Tory manifesto whose few policies that grabbed the headlines were either ditched quickly (sort of, like the dementia tax), were unpopular and divisive (grammar schools) or evoked a WTF reaction (foxhunting).

That the policies were presented properly was because of the Corbyn leadership.  He dominated the Labour campaign for the right reason, that he personified these policies and the principles that they were intended to proclaim.  As people got used to him his presentation became both better and less important as people didn’t expect slick presentation à la David Cameron and concentrated on what he said rather than on how he said it.

Early opposition by the most incorrigible Blairites more or less dissolved as the instinct for self-preservation kicked in and the BBC etc. realised it would not be possible to give equal coverage to the policies presented by the Conservative Party and the uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn as presented by the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party.

Only near the end of the campaign did more and more talking heads acknowledge the staying power of Corbyn and his attraction for many young people, and older Labour voters who had previously given up on Labour due to its Tory-lite policies.  Most of all, they were forced to acknowledge the massive enthusiasm his campaign had generated even when they covered two men and a dog ‘rallies’ by Maybot and ignored rallies of ten thousand held by Labour.  Despite paper talk that Labour candidates would fight local campaigns while claiming Corbyn was ‘nuthin to do with me guv’, it more and more became clear that a vote for the Labour Party was a vote for Corbyn and more and more an endorsement of his leadership of the Party.

Finally, the generation of a mass campaign, whose most prominent features were the Corbyn rallies, had an effect way beyond the large numbers attending.  Speaking in Scotland made the Scottish Labour Party relevant and his rally in Gateshead is reported to have rippled right across the North-East of England.  The rallies were designed not to be photo-ops for the TV but were genuine engagements with voters.

‘For the many not the few’ became more than a slogan but became reality in the infectious participation of working class people in the rallies and meetings.  Reports surfaced of Labour party activity in towns and villages that had not seen Labour Party activity before.  The participation of the young, the participation of working class families that don’t normally attend political events, and the extension of the Party to parts of the country not previously reached all demonstrated that this was a mass phenomenon.  And it was this mass sentiment that appeared in TV audiences that led Tory papers to accuse the broadcasters of bias in audience selection.

So, if these are the factors that led to the massive increase in the Labour vote not seen since 1945, it is obvious how further steps forward must now be taken.

Mass participation in the labour movement cannot depend on elections but must involve activity to build the movement and build the Labour Party, including a youth wing.  This includes union organisation, campaign groups and tenants and residents’ associations.   In one way the Corbyn movement has been lucky that one failed challenge to his leadership and then a general election have provided the opportunity to build upon his initial election. The real prospect of another election soon will provide another opportunity but relying on such events is not enough and the movement in and around the Labour Party has the chance to set the agenda and push through victories through building a permanent mass movement.

Political leadership of this movement is also a continuing process of political campaigning and democratic organisation.  Above all, the potential for the right and ‘soft’ left of the Party to usurp control of the party arising from any, even  minor, setback should be removed by a campaign to democratise the Party and the labour movement as a whole.  A truce with the right on the basis that the Labour Party is ‘a broad church’ should not come to mean tolerance of machine politics, undemocratic practices and rules, and open attempts at sabotage.

Finally, the most important question is one of politics.  Less than a week before the end of the election campaign the media suddenly woke up to the fact that the Brexit election had ignored Brexit.  But as the old adage goes – you can ignore Brexit but Brexit will not ignore you. The complexities of Brexit have been a foreign country for the mainstream media from the beginning and the issue is presented more and more as one resolved by opposition to the best trade deal possible on the grounds that the primary objective is limitation of immigration.

This is not the ground on which a working-class alternative can be built and it is not the common ground of those who voted Labour in the election. The implicit blaming of social ills on foreigners facilitates the explicit blame expressed in xenophobia and racism.  The identification of outsiders as those to blame for ‘our’ problems becomes the need to identify and suppress those inside who are ‘agents’ of these outsiders because they won’t blame immigrants for poor public services and won’t scapegoat immigrant labour for local capitalist exploitation.  It leads to paper headlines such as “Crush the Saboteurs”. If curbing immigration is part of a solution then it provides excuses for Tories, Blairites and racists to excuse their support for austerity.  Most importantly it undermines the unity of working people that is needed to take us forward.

The challenge to the Labour Party political leadership is to demonstrate that its policies are incompatible with racism and anti-immigrant scapegoating, is incompatible with an isolated country cut off from potential allies in the rest of Europe and is incompatible with the harm to be caused, being caused right now, by leaving the EU.

Just as during the election, this will mean confronting and largely bypassing the Tory media and mobilising Party members to convince uncertain supporters ,or even those opposed, that the social-democratic programme put forward by Corbyn that they support cannot be enacted in a Brexit Britain.

The election has opened up opportunities for British workers, but they must seize them like they grasped the election.  When Marx was asked what his idea of happiness was, he said “to fight’.  And that is what we must continue to do.

 

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 2

 

HARLOW, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, addresses supporters and members of the media as he launches his party's local election campaign on April 5, 2016 in Harlow, England. Mr Corbyn visited the Essex town to meet supporters and to officially launch the Labour Party's local election campaign ahead of voting on May 5th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The argument that we can do nothing about Brexit except make the best of it is presented in a lucid argument on this blog.  Three reasons are advanced in support of the view that for the Labour Party to oppose Brexit “would be disastrous”.

Firstly, it would fail.  The Tories will vote for it as will the early pioneers of Donald Trump – the Donald Unionist Party.  And so will those Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constituencies who show much more readiness to oppose their leadership than the disaster that awaits their working class constituents.

This may or may not be true, although it certainly will be true if the opposition to Brexit itself refuses to oppose it.  The mantra that “the people” have voted for Brexit will be made official if those MPs supposedly opposed join in making the slim majority in the referendum an overwhelming vote in parliament.

The typically arrogant and supremacist claim of the Brexit right will be confirmed, that the only people who matter are those led by bigots.  The loyalist slogan “we are the people”, to be understood in the sense that everyone else is a lesser being, sits perfectly with the declarations of Farage and Trump that they alone speak for the people, because those who do not support them do not count.  Not voting against Brexit confirms the strident demands of the bullying reactionaries that their vote based on lies, fantasy and prejudice is unimpeachable.

On the other hand a vigorous campaign led by Labour against Brexit, which explains the real effects that are already visible, could compel reluctant Labour MPs to vote against Brexit and provide the cover for Tories opposed to Brexit to do the same.  We have been ‘warned’ repeatedly that a majority of MPs oppose Brexit, what matters is the political environment to make this a reality; and while the vote in parliament will decide the matter, the combination of disastrous consequences and political mobilisation outside parliament can determine it.

And if we are talking about numbers – what about the 65% of Labour voters who voted to Remain or do concerns about losing support only apply when bowing down to the most reactionary segment of support?  In terms of sheer numbers it makes no sense to alienate 65% in order to placate 35%.  ‘We can’t neglect to take on board the concerns of our working class supporters’ doesn’t really cut it when you look at it this way, unless you accept the nonsense that Remain voters were the metropolitan elite who, guess what, are not part of ‘the people.’

The second argument is that Labour cannot be seen to be “gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it  ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’.  Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.”

This is no doubt true; it is also true, although I do not know to what extent, that some Labour voters supporting Brexit will vote against Labour or abstain if it seeks “to subvert the will of the people”.   But it must again be recalled that the majority of Labour voters voted Remain!  And it really is internalising defeat when you vote with the Tories against the wishes of a majority of your own supporters.  However true the argument is that the strident claims of the Brexiteers will gain traction if Labour doesn’t bow before their demands, the contrary argument put here is also true, true to our principles and true to our future:

“The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say,“Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump’s racist and reactionary policies.”

The parallel drawn here is not merely similar to the Brexit vote; in the immediate sense it is identical.  The Trump measures against refugees and the citizens of seven countries is a clear attack on peoples’ ability to move and to seek a better life in another country.  The Brexit vote was led by just the same sort of xenophobic and racist politics that motivated the reactionary Trump campaign, even if not all who voted for Brexit were xenophobes or racists, just like Trump voters, who weren’t all bigots and racists either.

The parallel is identical because a core principle socialists are trying to defend by opposing Brexit is the freedom of movement of working people in the EU, just like the freedom of movement of refugees and citizens of mainly Muslim countries to the US.  Working class solidarity is hardly a credible proposition if you don’t defend the ability of workers of different nations to work together.  It is much harder to make it a reality if it is prevented.  We know this, amongst other reasosn, because we know that the Brexit vote did not succeed in areas with the largest number of immigrants but often in areas with low numbers.

The third argument is that the Labour strategy of seeking to amend the Brexit process “will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get” and “does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.”

Aside from the strength of an opposition that ultimately promises to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 it is unfortunately the case that a hard Brexit is the only one on offer.  An end to the free movement of workers in the EU is already a given, as is the exit from existing free trade arrangements, the disruption of which will impact on British capitalism and thereby on British workers, not to mention those in the EU.

As I have already argued, the strategy of a low-tax, deregulated and low wage Britain is the most credible one for an isolated nation seeking to insert itself into an international system in which every other large economy is part of a free-trade arrangement.  The exposure that Britain will impose on itself was illustrated by an article in Monday’s ‘Financial Times’, which reported a study that 46% of goods and services exports from the UK’s 62 cities went to the EU.  In contrast China accounted for only 4%, so that in order to make up a drop of 10% in EU exports would require a doubling of them to China or an increase by nearly one-third to the US.

Given that we know that a hard Brexit is coming it makes no sense to pretend the Tories will deliver anything else.  Could anyone seriously believe the Tories want to exit the rules and regulations of the EU because they want to make the regulations governing working conditions and employment rights better?

To pretend they will do anything else is a stand-out illustration of the weakness of an approach that tail-ends the Tories confusion and incompetence and that has allowed them to get away with taking over six months before even giving the broadest of outlines of what they wanted.  Leaving opposition to some final vote that the Tories can ignore is to play parliamentary games with workers’ futures when you aren’t in control of the rules.  There appears no guarantee that even defeating a Tory Brexit deal will not allow them to exit with no deal, as they have threatened.  A movement that would make this outcome politically unacceptable might prevent employment of such a device.

The only honest approach is to explain that a hard Brexit is inevitable and to build opposition to it on this basis, not wait for it to happen.  Having (sometimes) stated that the Tories will deliver a hard Brexit, the Labour Party is open to increasing incredulity and anger that they are not now opposing it.  The shadow-Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has told everyone that it is now impossible to oppose Brexit, making it clear that a single consideration trumps every other concern, while it took the old Tory Ken Clarke to make the points Starmer would not:

“Let me give an analogy in explaining the position for members of parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public in their wisdom have occasionally failed to take my advice and they have actually by a majority voted Labour. And I have found myself here facing a Labour government.”

“I do not recall an occasion where I was told it was now my democratic duty to support Labour policies under Labour governments on the other side of the House. That proposition would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. “

“We are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with this great new globalised future, which offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

“Don’t let me be too cynical – I hope that is right. I want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

This third argument has been put most pithily by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman – “accept the result.”  Except the real result of the referendum is not yet in and it would be criminal to accept it.

The third argument on accepting Brexit relies on the undoubtedly true argument that the referendum result “has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it.  In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.”

However, while true, this can hardly be an argument not to fight back now and, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, “in some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.”  This is because the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism which has created Brexit will not benefit workers, and their continued pursuit of them will hurt them rather quickly and rather directly.

Brexit allows the reactionary import of nationalism and racism to be demonstrated through the attacks on workers’ rights, conditions and living standards that Brexit will inevitably involve.  It provides the grounds to clearly separate the hardened ideological bigots from workers mistakenly attracted to false and simple-minded solutions that are nor in their interest.  Now is not the time to entertain the idea that restrictions on immigration and deference to reactionary nationalism can be combined with protection of workers to produce a mildly progressive ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no combination of nationalism and racism with state ‘national’ socialism that will be in the interests of workers.  By pointing this out and fighting for an alternative the Labour Party will be proved right if or when Brexit either becomes a reality, or its disastrous effects become visible and palpable before this happens.  To prepare for this means opposing Brexit now and being best placed to build the movement that stops it and inflicts a defeat on the forces of reaction behind it.  Which leads to a final argument put up against opposition to Brexit now.

“This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.”

There is no doubt some truth in this as well but it is rather like the truth that Brexit will be shown to be the shitshow predicted when it comes to pass.  Will the working class and the socialist movement be better off for having been proved right or will we have suffered a bitter defeat from which we will have to struggle to recover?  And similarly, if we defeat Brexit – the right of the Tory party and UKIP plus their ‘respectable’ fascists – will they be stronger or weaker for their defeat? The right can have its myths and its narrative if the labour and socialist movement can have its victory.

Back to part 1