Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to help Theresa May deliver Brexit took another step forward with the publication of a letter setting out his terms for Labour’s support.
The new five demands are a unilateral revision of conference policy, which calls for Labour to vote against any deal which does not meet the “six tests” set out in the party manifesto.
These tests were always unattainable as they sought a deal in which the UK would have “the exact same benefits” as membership of the Single Market and Customs Union without being a member.
But Corbyn’s five demands are equally unattainable, calling for a permanent customs union with the UK having a say on future trade deals, and “dynamic alignment” with the single market, including “shared institutions”.
The fact that everyone knows it is impossible for either the EU or the Tory Brexiteers to accept these demands reveals Corbyn’s letter for what it is: a shabby manoeuvre whose only function is to continue running down the clock and avoid calling for a referendum.
The negotiations between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May should puncture any remaining illusions about Corbyn’s unspoken objective, which is actually to assist May to get her deal through the Commons, with enough Labour votes to offset her own rebels.
This is Labour’s version of having the cake and eating it; leaving the EU, as Corbyn has always wanted to do, but avoiding responsibility for the dire consequences to follow.
As Red Flag has said all along, such a policy is thoroughly unprincipled. It endorses the wholly reactionary nationalist project of Brexit, does nothing to ward off the disastrous economic consequences for British workers and condones the racist demand to end free movement, isolating us from our class brothers and sisters on the continent.
The cries of outrage from right wing MPs were entirely predictable. Sincere Labour Party members need take no leadership from self-serving careerists who are prepared to split the party in order to prevent the election of a left-wing Labour government.
But Corbyn’s behaviour has alienated whole swathes of loyal supporters. Many believed that the ‘compromise’ struck at last year’s conference meant that if a vote of no confidence was defeated, Labour would take up the second referendum left “on the table”.
As we pointed out at the time, conference policy did not commit the leadership to supporting a referendum – it merely prevented it from ruling it out. More importantly, the policy did not determine what Labour’s position would be in the event of any referendum being called.
There is no doubt that the pro-Brexit coterie in the leader’s office are doing everything in their power to oppose a referendum. That’s why Corbyn’s letter contained no mention of it, and when shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook stated the obvious in asserting that “either May accepts them in full and commits to enshrining them in law before exit day or we must move to support a public vote”, he was quickly slapped down.
The contradictions of the strategy being carried out by the leadership was made transparently clear when less than 24 hours later, John McDonnell appeared in the media claiming that “of course” the deal would have to be put to the people if Labour’s terms were rejected. Either there is a difference between the leader and shadow chancellor – in which case it should be put in front of the members – or it is a dishonest pantomime.
Jeremy Corbyn has avoided openly arguing for his own belief that Brexit is necessary for implementing socialist policies. At the same time he has pursued a policy directly opposed to the wishes of the great majority of members. Indeed he and his advisors, plus national Momentum, have done all they could to frustrate conference and the NEC from deciding these issues democratically. In this, he has had the support of McCluskey and the Unite bureaucracy, which has also been negotiating with May behind their members’ backs.
If Corbyn continues to take the internationalist and anti-racist membership for granted while triangulating towards the nationalist and xenophobic pro-Brexit vote, it will, in the end, deepen the split between the leadership and the members and demoralise a very large percentage of Labour’s members and supporters, particularly the younger ones who will have to live longest with the consequences.
Whether or not there has already been a significant loss of members, there certainly will be as soon as it becomes clear that Labour has in fact facilitated May’s Brexit. The eruption of indignation when it appeared the PLP was not going to vote against the Immigration Bill was an ominous forewarning of this.
What can members who put the principles of internationalism and working class solidarity before uncritical loyalty to left leaders, do now?
We should pass resolutions to the NEC demanding:
• An immediate end to the negotiations with May
• A three line whip on the PLP to vote against May’s deal in any form
• Immediately table a motion for a new referendum with the option to remain
Since it is clear that there is no deal which meets Labour’s “six tests”, and since Corbyn has summarily dumped conference policy in order to cut a deal with the Tories, Red Flag believes that members should support the call for a special conference and fight to overturn Labour’s disastrous support for Brexit.