The more-than-rumour is that Keir Starmer’s leadership will impose a parliamentary whip to force Labour MPs to back the Tory Brexit deal possibly coming soon — even a high-pressure “three-line whip”.
There is no good Brexit. But any possible deal will fall at the hard, economically destructive, socially regressive end of the Brexit spectrum.
The left and labour movement should oppose this big, convulsive step backwards. We should refuse responsibility for the Tories’ disastrous plans, and loudly tell the truth about what they represent.
We should demand the Parliamentary Labour Party votes against any deal.
If there seems to be a risk of a parliamentary defeat for the deal, guaranteeing a No Deal Brexit, then there could be a case for Labour to abstain — combined with clear, aggressive denunciation of the government’s plans. There is absolutely no case for soft-soaping what the Tories are doing.
The basic issue is not the technicalities of parliamentary procedure, or even of UK-EU negotiations. It is whether the labour movement opposes the government in the name of something significantly better. As Another Europe is Possible organiser Michael Chessum put it in the Independent:
“At the very moment that Labour needs to be drawing itself up to its fullest height, warning about the disaster that awaits, and setting out a radical alternative for post-Brexit Britain, Keir Starmer is apparently preparing to announce his abject surrender before walking through the government lobbies mumbling something about responsible opposition and the ‘national interest’.”
Starmer’s inclination to support a Tory Brexit deal is of a piece with his refusal to oppose the Tories’ on issues like “spycops” and “overseas operations”. It is about chasing the phantom of support among socially conservative, pro-Brexit voters without arguing with them respectfully and seriously. It will demoralise and disorganise the labour movement and left, and diminish the chances of a Labour government any time soon — certainly, any sort of radical Labour government.
With the general silence in the labour movement on Brexit, and on the timescale involved, it may be hard to turn the leadership around. At the same time, Starmer’s stance will probably be unpopular with Labour members. We should push back, rallying forces to continue fighting the Tories’ Brexit agenda after 1 January.
If Starmer continues down this path, left-wing MPs who opposed Brexit should break the whip and vote against a deal. The internationalist left should push them to speak up and take a stand.