Brexit is a hostile environment for Labour

By KD Tait

The Corbyn leadership’s “constructive ambiguity” over Brexit, which was supposed to ensure the party remained united and able to concentrate on other issues, has completely failed. So, too, has the compromise of the conference resolution, which left both the highly improbable goal of a general election and a Labour-negotiated Brexit and a people’s vote “on the table”. As a result, the party has haemorrhaged members and voters and lost elections. The reality is that the strategy on Brexit has seriously undermined the fight for a Labour government.

It has enabled the Leader’s Office to triangulate between the majority of members, who oppose Brexit and support freedom of movement for workers, and the minority, who support Brexit and oppose free movement. In effect, it not only allowed Corbyn to pursue the policy of the minority but prevented the majority from even expressing their views, let alone determining party policy by a democratic decision.

Jeremy Corbyn promised to transform Labour into a democratic, membership-led organisation. The Brexit fiasco shows he has completely failed in this and, sooner or later,  we will all pay the price, not least because he has given the right wing a progressive stick with which to beat him and his ill-chosen team of advisors. Tom Watson’s support for a special conference to decide policy on Brexit is just the latest evidence for this. Anyone who thinks this is all outweighed by the sight of the Tories tearing themselves apart has not thought through the implications of a re-alignment of the extreme right in this country.

The argument that, in order to win the next election, Labour had to support Brexit and sacrifice the interests of the millions of EU27 citizens working and studying here, was a cruel delusion. Labour has lost more support than it would have done by sticking to its pre-2016 principled internationalist position. Worse still, for the future, it has turned the Greens into a serious electoral rival, allowed the Liberal Democrats to restore the credibility they lost by entering the austerity coalition with the Tories and ensured that Labour is not at the head of those opposing the sinister Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

Now, Theresa May’s failure to get the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament and her resignation open the road to the possibility of No Deal. Leaving aside the short term economic chaos that would cause, it would leave the country at the mercy of Donald Trump’s USA, a trading block more unreservedly neoliberal, and militarily more aggressive, than the EU. Even if it were possible to win a general election in such circumstances, a Labour government trying to pursue socialist policies would find itself in an extremely hostile environment.

Labour needs as quickly as possible to assert, or reassert, the following principles:

Brexit is a reactionary, nationalist project whose goal is to deregulate Britain, asset-strip the NHS and what remains of the welfare state and plunge Britain into competition with the European states whilst putting us in a position of supporting the US militarily as well as economically in the conflict between the imperialist blocks, which is now well underway.

Brexit is incompatible with Labour’s internationalism and with its radical reforming agenda.

In pursuit of a Labour government that can mobilise the organised labour movement to deliver its reforms, Labour should affirm its commitment to the free movement and rights of all workers, and its opposition to Brexit and all expressions of chauvinism and xenophobia.

To create an economy with secure, well paid jobs, to tackle climate change, to challenge the divisive poison of nationalism, to fight for workers’ and popular democracy against the institutional powers – these are goals we have in common with the labour movements of Europe.  To achieve them will require democracy, common ownership and planning at an international level. This socialist programme of solidarity and internationalism is the antidote to the surging tide of populist racism and nationalism sweeping the globe.

Thus we oppose to the end the No Deal, which a new Tory leader might try to impose, or allow by default. Labour should also continue to oppose May’s Brexit deal, with or without any cosmetic changes, and abandon the utopian and reactionary Six Point Labour Brexit plan.

If the Tories are forced to propose a referendum, whether on May’s deal or a variation on it, or on No Deal, Labour should insist that the option to Remain is included, support the proposal for a referendum and then campaign for a Remain vote. In a general election, Labour’s manifesto should include a commitment to propose delaying Brexit to allow a referendum with the option to Remain. It should also commit the party, in or out of the EU, to a policy of united action with the labour movement across Europe against the neoliberal policies and the undemocratic institutions of the EU and for the Socialist United States of Europe.

This first step is for Labour to call for a new European Social Forum, bringing together workers’ organisations, socialist groups, and social movements to discuss a plan of action to reverse austerity, confront the far right, and take measures to address the climate emergency.


Red Flag is a socialist organisation campaigning within Labour for a democratically planned and owned economy. We campaign for grassroots democracy in the labour movement, militant defence of the oppressed and an anticapitalist programme for the Labour Party. Against Brexit, for free movement. Anticapitalist and internationalist.

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