As Solidarity goes to press on 22 January, Labour has put down an amendment in Parliament which at first sight seems to call for a new public vote on Brexit.
It seems to cut through the messing-around with rival Brexit formulas, all of which have a majority against them in Parliament, in the electorate, and especially in the labour movement. It seems to say, at last: Brexit is no good. We need a new public vote which can reassess with what we now know, and vote firmly to remain in the EU, with the understanding that Labour will work with the left and labour movements across Europe to change the EU.
It seems to say that. And surely it shows that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership are feeling the pressure on them from Labour’s ranks to say that. But it doesn’t say that. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told BBC’s Today programme: “It’s not stating that the party supports a second referendum”.
The Skwawkbox blog, which is close to key people in Corbyn’s Leader’s Office, wrote:
“Labour amendment does not commit party to any kind of referendum... The wording will no doubt be misinterpreted to suit the agendas of the so-called ‘people’s vote’... but the amendment stipulates leaving time for those options as required and does not commit to the option of a new referendum actually taking place...
“The party is rightly keeping all options open until the outcome of the current process is known...”
And, yes, in fact the amendment “instructs the UK Government to secure sufficient time for the UK Parliament to consider and vote on options” to forestall a “no deal” Brexit.
It states those options as amending the Tories’ deal to add “a permanent customs union with the EU [and] a strong relationship with the Single Market” or “a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons”.
What to do if no deal has a majority in the Commons, it doesn’t say.
The impasse in Parliament reflects core political facts. The idea of unwinding decades of cross-border economic and social integration to create a newly walled-off Britain makes no sense.
The only real answer to the bureaucratism, neo-liberalism, and despicable barring of asylum seekers by the EU is Europe-wide solidarity of the left and the labour movement to democratise and win social improvements.
Though Brexit could bring no social or economic improvement, it could stall immigration and make life worse for migrant workers already in Britain: and for some of the Brexiters, that is the aim. But it is more and more evident that such measures against an important section of the working class would hurt, not help, the working class as a whole.
And it is also clear, now, that any Brexit other than one which keeps a customs union and at least the bulk of the Single Market which the Brexiters dislike so much will mean a new “hard border” in Ireland, new sectarian strife, new regression.
Time to draw conclusions. Time to end the impasse. Time to abandon the nationalist nostalgia and fantasy which swung the Brexit vote in 2016.
Labour conference 2018 should have been able to have a real debate on Brexit, but was manipulated into having just one take-it-or-leave-it composite. Most of Labour policy since the parliamentary crisis on Brexit broke has been distant from the spirit of that composite, and licensed by it if at all only by its silences.
Labour should call a special conference on Brexit, as demanded by the railworkers’ union TSSA.
Jeremy Corbyn: stop wavering! What you said in 2016 (not trenchantly enough, but you said it) was right: Remain and Reform! Commit now to a new public vote!
The anti-Brexit campaigns
Labour for a Socialist Europe
Right now L4SE is campaigning for a special Labour conference, and petitioning and putting motions in the labour movement to demand that Jeremy Corbyn comes out against Brexit and for a new public vote.
As well as in labour movement meetings, it is also active on the streets, with stalls, petitioning, leafleting, etc. In fact it is the only one of the antiBrexit campaigns so far to circulate hardcopy printed petitions for face to face activity.
It plans a conference on 9 or 16 March, and is approaching other specifically Labour anti-Brexit campaigns for cooperation.
Another Europe is Possible
Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) was set up before the 2016 Brexit referendum, and campaigned then for a left-wing “Remain and Reform” vote.
After continuing on a low key in 20167, it revived in 2018, and did a lot of work to get “new public vote” motions to Labour Party conference.
We dissented from AEIP’s rosy assessment of the eventual composite as “all but committing to a public vote” and “defending free movement”.
But AEIP did work for the motions, and it organised a left bloc on the huge 20 October 2018 anti-Brexit march.
AEIP has recently come round to supporting the calls for a Labour special conference, and it is campaigning now with an epetition for the government to “extend or withdraw Article 50”, which we support.
In late 2018 AEIP, previously structured as an NGO, opened itself up to individual membership, and held a conference which elected a committee.
AEIP explicitly defines itself as “cross-party” (meaning mostly Greens as well as Labour; it also has links with Best for Britain), and voted at the conference to support L4SE to do what can only be done by a specifically Labour campaign.
The People’s Vote campaign was brought together only in April 2018, uniting Open Britain (run by many of the key figures from the conservative “don’t-rock-the-boat” official Remain campaign from June 2016) with other groups on the same wavelength.
It is well-funded, has offices in Millbank, claims 20,000 active supporters, and had enough outreach to organise the huge 20 October 2018 anti-Brexit demonstration.
Its “chairs” are Anna Soubry, a dissident Tory MP, and Chuka Umunna, a Labour rightwinger. Most Labour rightwingers have chosen to make a show of deference to Corbyn since the June 2017 election, but not Umunna: there is constant speculation that he may plan a new “centre party”, or maybe he just has his eyes set on being the next but one Labour leader after Corbyn.
It embraces many MPs, from the Green Caroline Lucas to Remainer Tories, with the emphasis on the Tories.
It does now call for 16-17 year olds, and EU citizens resident in Britain, to be entitled to vote in a new referendum.
Its people tend to deal with the issue of free movement by arguing that harsh measures against migrant workers and their rights can after all be carried out within EU rules.
Best for Britain
Best for Britain defines itself as “a group of campaigners, businesspeople, entrepreneurs and citizens who have come together to oppose and stop Brexit”.
Its leading figures are actual capitalists rather than MPs, including Mark Malloch Brown (one of George Soros’s deputies in his highfinance business) and Peter Norris (Richard Branson’s righthand man in the Virgin Group).
Perhaps thanks to the influence of its CEO, Eloise Todd, it has a slightly more leftish bourgeois cosmopolitan tinge than People’s Vote. It works with the antifascist group Hope not Hate, and sponsors the youth anti-Brexit group Our Future Our Choice.
With People’s Vote it co-sponsored a 9 December rally top-billing former Thatcher minister Michael Heseltine.