It’s not ‘our’ Brexit

Trying to reclaim Brexit for the left is a distraction from opposing the Tory plans THERESA MAY and her three Brexiteers, David Davies, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, are preparing for a devastating withdrawal from the European Union. Her “red, white and blue” Brexit will deny the UK full access to the single market, leading to an economic downturn, greater inflation and skills shortages.

So why is she so gung-ho about it? Well it will shore up the Tories’ reactionary, xenophobic electoral base against any resurgent Ukip revival. And, she calculates, it will throw Labour into a further round of fratricidal frenzy. Besides, as Philip Hammond’s autumn mini-budget exposed, the Tories will always aim to heap the burden of economic pain onto the working class.

Clearly, we cannot support any manoeuvres by the anti-Brexit elements of the ruling class to stop it, either through parliament or through the courts. But we must oppose attempts to use the referendum result as a “mandate” to force through whatever reactionary deal May and the EU bureaucrats cook up.

A referendum is a snapshot in time of specific circumstances and conditions. The view of the majority can change, and possibly already has. If conditions change dramatically, if the economic consequences prove severe, if the lies of leading pro-Brexit figures are exposed, it may prove possible to democratically reverse the decision before it is fully implemented.

Whatever the motivations of those who voted for Brexit, it is clear that the Brexit campaign offered many “types” of Brexit; the “Norwegian model”, “hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit”. What the referendum result gives is a simply mandate to seek negotiations on what leaving the EU would mean in reality. It does not give the government a mandate to restrict immigration or to rescind human, environmental or workers’ rights.

So what should Labour do?

Labour is not obliged by the referendum result to trigger Article 50 if it is a “step in the dark”, or “walking off a cliff”, let alone if it is part of a package of attacks against the conditions of the working class at home or abroad.

It should insist that parliament votes on the negotiating position before a vote to trigger Article 50. Labour should table amendments to insert the following conditions:

  • The maintenance of access to the single market
  • The preservation of freedom of movement for both UK and EU citizens
  • The preservation of progressive EU legislation on workers’ rights, human rights, environmental protection, etc.

It should also call for the abandonment of the UK opt-outs from the European working time directive and should vote against triggering Article 50 unless these red lines are guaranteed.

Regardless of the outcome, Labour should maintain its opposition in principle to Brexit, campaigning to win the majority of the working class to halt the process of exit democratically, by a general election or a referendum. The party must campaign to remain within, or return to the EU on the basis of fighting with socialist and progressive forces across the union on the following basis:

  • End the EU’s pro-austerity and “balanced budget” policies, as well as its restrictions on nationalisation.
  • End Fortress Europe, down with the walls and fences within the EU and on its external borders.
  • Massively increase the scale of humanitarian rescue and aid missions in the Mediterranean.
  • Let in war refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, etc.
  • Repeal EU rules banning nationalisation and in-house services, and those mandating private outsourcing.

Electoral hopes

It would be doubly wrong for Labour to adopt an opportunist policy based on reducing immigration or ending free movement of labour.

Firstly it would pit the party against migrant workers, who are every bit a part of the British working class.

Secondly it would not even bring the proposed electoral gain, since twice as many Labour voters supported Remain as Leave, and probably an even greater number of its members back free movement and EU membership.

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