Saturday, February 16, 2019

Socialists oppose Brexit


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I was pleased to see Lloyd Russell-Moyle chairing a meeting of left-wing Labour Members of Parliament who are opposed to Brexit the other day. Leaving the European Union (EU) on any terms in the current circumstances will be a setback for the interests of working class people in the United Kingdom, and it is the job of socialists to defend and promote the interests of our class. It follows that socialists oppose Brexit.

I understand the need for the Labour Party leadership to “reach out” to some of those who sadly voted “Leave” in the 2016 referendum if we are to win a General Election – and appreciate that there are enough Labour Parliamentarians who would reject being whipped into blocking Brexit to mean that demands that the leadership try do just that (from a position in Opposition) are, at best, otiose.

However, socialists holding positions in the Labour Party – particularly those who are elected representatives representing areas which predominantly supported remaining in the EU – have an obligation to give voice to the views of the majority of class-conscious workers who oppose Brexit.

It is also important to contest the implausible claim of attention seeking careerists on the right of the Party to be the voice of internationalism and opposition to Brexit within Labour. These are the heirs of the bankrupt political tradition which contributed to the crisis which led to the “Leave” vote. If some of them leave the Labour Party I only hope they shut the door on the way out, as it still gets chilly at night even if it is unseasonably warm during the day.

The most appropriate resolution of the current political crisis, in which the Government cannot command a stable and reliable majority in Parliament on the defining issue of the moment, and therefore is not really in a position to govern, is for there to be a General Election.

In circumstances in which there does not appear presently to be an achievable Parliamentary majority for any particular form of Brexit (nor for another referendum as advocated by the “People’s Vote” campaign) it may well be that, probably following a delay in the implementation of the departure date of 29 March justified for some other reason, there will be a General Election.

Labour’s manifesto in that General Election will be written in accordance with the Party’s Rules – but if it is to reflect the interests of working class people in this country it will need to leave open the possibility of reversing Brexit, perhaps by calling for a referendum between the “soft” “Norway plus” Brexit option (which might command a Parliamentary majority) and remaining in the EU.

Of course, the most important aspects of our manifesto for such an election would not be those which were about Brexit, they would be those which sought to reverse austerity, build homes, repair our health service, nationalise our railways and unshackle our trade unions.

Socialists would also want to see a Labour manifesto which called for an end to racist immigration controls – which would mean that far from restricting the freedom of movement currently permitted to citizens of the EU we would extend freedom of movement into our country to all human beings.

We might or might not win that argument through the Party’s process for writing a manifesto – just as we may not feel that the manifesto goes far enough in restoring trade union rights (for example) – but we would have that argument.

The Labour Party has never (yet) been a socialist Party, it has always – as Tony Benn had it – been “a Party with socialists in it” (just as there have always been some Christians in the Church).

A socialist Leader does not make Labour a socialist Party – that is still a work in progress (note that is without a capital “P”) - and the comrades who are supporting our socialist Leader whilst opposing the reactionary nonsense of Brexit are very much part of that work.

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