As it rolls closer, Brexit continues to embolden the right wing of society and promote a corrosive anti-migrant prejudice in political life.
Most fatally, the right-wing attitudes that have been boosted by Brexit are corrupting the Corbyn-led Labour Party. Recent policy announcements show the party collapsing backwards under the weight of Brexit, calling for more border guards, restricting freedom of movement to those migrants deemed “economically useful” and inflicting on us the woeful hashtag #FairReasonableManagedMigration (suggesting that there is something unfair, unreasonable, or out-of-control about the presence of foreigners in the UK).
But socialist labour movement activists are standing up against the slow poison of Brexit nationalism.
Of 272 motions submitted to Labour Party conference in 2018, around 150 of them are on Brexit — and 130 of them call on Labour to come out for a referendum on the deal with an option to remain, or to oppose Brexit outright.
Many stress the importance of defending migrant rights and free movement — most anti-Brexit motions are versions of the leftwing text supplied by Another Europe is Possible, with efforts by centrists to make the fight against Brexit a stick with which to beat the left floundering.
The constituency Labour Parties are leading the way in the labour movement. The statement from the TUC on Brexit was welcome, in that it raised the possibility of a mass trade union campaign against a bad deal, and said it was “open” to a referendum on Brexit. But it was a fudge, qualified by a desire not to tie the Labour or trade union leaders down to any particular course.
In a tough fight like the one we face now against the hard-right forces driving Brexit, only a clear, unambiguous policy can keep a movement from being blown on the wind. Shying away from bluntly demanding a referendum or a general election or giving the leadership the option of stepping back from the brink of a confrontation with the forces of Brexit is a recipe for defeat. So local Labour activists are right to demand that the party commit firmly to a strategy.
Internationalist courage and activism will be needed throughout society: not just at Labour Party conference. The many thousands of activists who have argued and voted for Labour to change direction need to start building a movement against Brexit nationalism in the streets and in workplaces.
That means winning over workers in Leave-voting areas with a programme that can offer genuine solutions to the hardships that inspired a large Brexit protest vote in 2016, and isolating hardcore rightwing demagogues within those communities. That work is already underway with listening exercises and initiatives like the “Brexitometers” being run by left activists in Leave areas.
It means an educational drive in workplaces, especially workplaces where trade union organisation is under threat from a split between native and migrant workers. Workplace activists have to go beyond the union leadership’s demands for “a deal that protects jobs” and get to work rooting out prejudice and division.
And it means rallying the anti-Brexit constituency of the mostly-Remain-voting big cities around an inspiring programme based not in fear or support of the status quo, but an internationalist vision that says that the socialist and labour movements across the European continent and beyond are a better friend to British workers than the millionaire demagogues at the wheel of Brexit.