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Labour is a pro-Brexit party
18 Feb, 2018

But Labour supporters can change that

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg criticises the ambiguity that has allowed Labour to fool many people that it backs Remain. But if you are a Labour supporter, you can change the party’s position by prioritising Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn holds the key to stopping Brexit. Labour supporters hold the key to ensuring that he does so. Will you use it?

The Labour Leadership’s position

The 2017 Labour Election Manifesto was clear. Labour accepted the referendum result. There were warm words about a closer relationship with Europe, a firm No to a no-deal Brexit, guarantees to EU citizens. But the central message was clear. Labour wanted a hard Brexit: “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.”. But it also promised that we could have our cake and eat it through “negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”; pure Boris.

In spite of that, misguided tactical voting campaigns called on Remainers to vote Labour. Many voters did so in the belief that Labour’s opposition to Theresa May’s Brexit really meant opposition to any Brexit. That flew in the face of the clear evidence in the manifesto.

It is hard to see Jeremy Corbyn as a Remainer, although he did campaign for Remain in the referendum – if his luke-warm performance can be called campaigning. But he has always voted in Parliament against Europe. And just as he is stuck in the 1970s on most policies, so he still holds to the 1970s Labour Leave view of the EU as the bosses’ club. Moreover, he is not a social democrat but a socialist. EU membership would prevent real pre-1989 Eastern European socialism. It would not prevent the implementation of the Labour manifesto, in spite of the claims of Labour Leave (you can read their response here). Nationalisation of the railway companies is not, for example, forbidden: Germany, France, Italy all have nationalised railway operators (prohibiting private operators would be forbidden).

Labour’s Brexit lead Keir Starmer is a genuine Remainer. But his primary concern is the election of a Labour government. That is why he argues that the referendum result must be taken through to Brexit itself. To do otherwise, he holds, would be corrosive to democracy.

He is certainly right that the referendum mandate must be honoured. But it is nonsense to hold that a vote on an idea commits you to follow whatever plan for implementation is later cooked up. So honouring the result means the government is right to negotiate Brexit. Good management, good politics means having a referendum on the result. If Leave voters still wish to Leave when they know what Brexit actually means they can still vote for it. They would not be deprived of their Brexit unless they voted against it.

But then Starmer claims to be able to negotiate a Brexit that is better than EU membership “Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU. “I do not want to get in to the approach that says: ‘It will never be as good as it was on 23 June 2016,’” he said. “I fundamentally reject that, I think if we work hard we can do better than that.”

Starmer is also keen to explain that there will not be enough to vote on at the end of 2018, just the Withdrawal Agreement and a very vague Framework for Future Relations. It is of course his job as Opposition Brexit lead to ensure that the Government negotiates a Framework for Future Relations that is concrete enough for the electorate to make a decision on it. That should be easy enough. There are after all only three options for the Framework of Future Relations:

  • Some variant of Norway/ Norway plus – high alignment, freedom of movement, limited scope to diverge, least damage to economy, rule-taker;
  • Canada – good for trade in goods, does nothing for services, damaging to economy, no freedom of movement, ability to diverge by shifting regulations away from European norm/ building socialism/ cutting human rights; and
  • Fantasy – all the benefits of EU membership and none of the costs.

If we assume that the EU rules out the third option, the choice between the first two will be definite and the implications clear.

The Labour Party’s position

What is odd about the Leadership’s support for Brexit is that it goes against the Labour Party Conference resolution. Doubly odd because Jeremy Corbyn used to insist on the primacy of party democracy when he was a backbench MP and claims still that it is the source of his legitimacy. Man of Principle?

The Labour Party’s actual policy is “… that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. … The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum.”

The Party’s National Executive Committee has apparently said that the motion was passed in error and is not party policy. But that view does not seem to be generally accepted. The chicanery at the 2017 Conference that prevented members debating a resolution on Brexit but led them to pass a bland motion supporting the leadership is not recognized as setting out a considered view.

Labour has benefited from its lack of principle

Labour has done very well out of its policy of ambiguity. It sounds pro-EU while supporting Brexit.

As a result over half of students surveyed believed that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party support Remain. Most of those who understood correctly that Labour and Jeremy Corbyn back Brexit believed that the policy is to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, when Labour actually mean to leave both.

At some point, Labour voters are going to realise that they have been had. What then?

Consistently polls show that most Labour voters and supporters back Remain. Labour is therefore at risk of losing their votes if it continues to back hard Brexit. That is especially true of the young voters whose support was so important to bringing about O Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps Labour could win on a soft Brexit?

But another analysis shows that Leave voters really really care. Remain voters are tepid. So Labour has most to lose by annoying Leave voters. Remain voters will still vote for them. This is the key point.

What you can do

If you are a Labour Party member, voter or supporter, the first thing you need to do is decide your focus. Which matters more to you right now? Brexit or the possibility of a Labour Government? Brexit or tuition fees? Only if enough Labour Remainers prioritise Brexit as the Leavers do will the Labour Party leadership incur enough of a cost from supporting Brexit to change tack. So Labour Remainers need to consider leaving the Party over Brexit, and telling the local and national leadership so.

Next, for a democratic party that claims to believe in party democracy, the obvious next step is to hold a party referendum on Brexit to determine policy. Andrew Adonis eloquently made the case for a party referendum to settle the question whether Labour should back a referendum on the terms.

On 3 May 2018 there are local government elections in England to London and metropolitan boroughs, districts and unitary authorities. Let us be clear. The right way to vote is for the party that offers the best management of your local authority. Local authorities are important democratic bodies, providing services and representing the people. The votes should be taken seriously in their own right and not just used as a barometer of the standing of the central government.

Nonetheless, there are campaigns for Remainers to vote tactically to show their displeasure at Theresa May’s hard Brexit. There is for example the Twitter hashtag ABTV: Anti-Brexit Tactical Voting. The only point I wish to make is that if you are going to prioritise policy on Brexit in the local government elections then you achieve nothing by rejecting the Conservatives if you vote Labour – the UK’s other hard Brexit party. If you wish to make a point about Remain you do need to vote for a party that actually opposes Brexit: Liberal Democrat or Green.

Labour will only come to support Remain if the electoral costs of supporting Brexit outweigh the benefits. Labour supporters hold the key to stopping Brexit. Will you use it?




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