Open up Brexit debate in Labour

Submitted by Matthew on 7 February, 2018 - 10:39 Author: Rhodri Evans

The planned Labour Party leadership “away day” to reconsider policy on Brexit has been flagged up as coming in “early February”, so must be soon. May even have happened by the time this issue of Solidarity reaches readers.

Sadly, Brexit and free-movement policy were denied debating time at Labour’s 2017 conference, partly thanks to a push by much of the Labour left to deny the issue priority votes. So Labour’s reconsideration is happening in exclusive conclaves rather than in broad debate. It is still possible for pro-free-movement, pro-open-borders left-wingers to influence the debate by passing and sending in local resolutions.

The importance of doing so is underlined by Labour right-winger Chuka Umunna’s recent announcement that he has become the convenor of a joint “grassroots coordinating group” to soften Brexit together with some Tory MPs like Anna Soubry. The right wing should not be allowed to use the issue to turn Labour people towards cooperation with the Tories.

Those Tories — and the Labour right-wingers — pointedly do not speak out for free movement of people. Nor do they openly campaign to stop Brexit. Their activity reflects a shift by big business to more vocal pressure on the Government.

“Remaining a member of a customs union for as long as it serves us to do so [which could well mean indefinitely] is consistent with the result of the referendum and would be good for EU firms too”, said Carolyn Fairbairn, chief of the CBI bosses’ federation, in January. Brexit issues will bubble in the coming weeks.

Hard-Brexiters in the Tory party are mobilising. Theresa May is clashing with the EU over the rights of EU citizens who come to Britain in the two “transition” years set to follow March 2019: she wants to deny them the citizen rights available to those who arrive before March 2019, and make them vulnerable to exclusion once the two years are up. Sadly, Labour made no vocal defence of those EU citizens’ rights. The European Commission is set to publish, within four weeks, a document interpreting the December deal on preventing a hard border in Ireland. That is likely to explode ambiguities in the deal, and exacerbate Tory divisions.