“No matter what deal is on the table, and which party has negotiated it, our position must be to remain in the EU and oppose any form of Brexit”, declared shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry at a “Love Socialism Hate Brexit” meeting in Parliament on Monday 15 July.
Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Jon Ashworth and Keir Starmer also spoke. John McDonnell and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard sent messages of support.
“Love Socialism Hate Brexit” (now renamed “Love Socialism Rebuild Britain Transform Europe”) was at first, when launched in February, a small group of nine left Labour MPs, Clive Lewis, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Alex Sobel, and others.
Agitation and campaigning from the grass roots by groups like Labour for a Socialist Europe — the huge anti-Brexit demonstration on 23 March, street stalls, meetings, motions through local Labour Parties — have expanded its reach.
The real, though mealy-mouthed and inadequate, shift in policy on 8-9 July by the Labour-affiliated trade unions (TULO) and then by the Labour Party also shows the impact of that campaigning effort.
Jeremy Corbyn said on 9 July: “Labour would campaign for Remain against either no deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs”.
As Alena Ivanova and Ana Oppenheim have written (Labour List, 10 July): “We are getting closer and closer to becoming an anti-Brexit party.
“This policy shift… follows many months of sustained pressure from the grassroots, from the same mass membership that secured Corbyn his leadership victories on the promise of listening to the movement”.
They add: “Labour must have the courage to win the argument on immigration. So far, its approach has been timid and has accommodated anti-migrant narratives.
“Our 2017 manifesto accepted that freedom of movement would end, and Labour was initially reluctant to oppose the Tory Immigration Bill, which threatens to give Boris Johnson’s future cabinet a blank cheque to rewrite migration laws.
“If the new Leave campaign is anything like the last one, we must be ready to tackle head-on its agenda of racist scapegoating. We know that it’s years of austerity, privatisation, deregulation and attacks on trade unions that are to blame for poverty and inequality – not fellow working people with foreign passports.
“We can only beat hate and division by combining a socialist programme with a strong pro- migrant message”.
The union position had a second clause, suggesting that a Labour government in the near future would seek a better Brexit deal and then call a public vote between a revised deal and Remain, leaving open Labour’s recommendation in that case.
Insider reports say that the Labour shadow cabinet rejected that second clause. Labour’s public statement said nothing on the question, and left open what Labour would say about Brexit in an early general election.
There remain those who want to rebuild walls between nations in Europe, turn back the economic and social clock, divert attention from class struggle against our own ruling class towards shadowy but above all “foreign” officials in Brussels, make barriers between British-born and migrant workers, and spin varieties of illusion about the possibilities for a reshaped “capitalism in one country”. Nigel Farage. Boris Johnson. Jeremy Hunt. And, on the self- proclaimed left, the Morning Star, and Morning Star’s allies in Labour’s Leader’s Office, Seamus Milne and others.
Their hope now rests on weariness and “we’ve done all we can” feelings gaining ground among the anti-Brexit majority of labour movement activists.
Such weariness, such force of inertia, is what the power of the ruling class always rests on. The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!
“Inspired by internationalism”
This was the message from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to the “Love Socialism, Hate Brexit” meeting on 15 July:
First, I fear that Johnson is willing to tip our country into the disaster of a no deal. We must work across the House to prevent this being inflicted on our community.
We cannot stand by and allow Parliament to be prorogued or ignored. Johnson and his wealthy friends will be largely protected from the increased food prices, threat to NHS drug supplies and eroding living standards caused by a no deal Brexit.
I warn you not to underestimate the reckless, ruthless self serving ambition of Johnson, who is willing to put our people at risk to secure the temporary keys of No. 10.
Second I am tremendously pleased that we are now committed to a referendum in which we will campaign to Remain. This reflects the increasing level of awareness of the impact Brexit would have on our economy and the jobs of the people we represent.
Third, in any future campaign we must learn the lessons of the last referendum campaign. I campaigned in that referendum with others on the slogan “Another Europe is Possible.” I believe that we failed in the last referendum because we failed to convince large areas of our country that another Europe was possible. We didn’t promote sufficiently the transformative policy programme we are constructing for many of the areas that in frustration and anger voted for Brexit.
So we must campaign for Remain but also the change that many of our communities desperately need after decades of neoliberal dominance and years of harsh austerity.
Fourth, that transformative programme includes both the large scale economic investment needed in these towns and also proposals for reform of the way the institutions of the EU operate to increase accountability and participation. That’s why I have favoured consideration of the use of Citizens’ Assemblies before any vote to both better inform the debate but also build understanding and, wherever possible, consensus.
Finally, we now need to campaign with idealism. Of course the economic argument is critical to our campaign but we also need to inspire people with the principles of internationalism that assert the unity of peoples rather than the separateness of nation states.
At Labour’s International Social Forum at the weekend we agreed that a new Internationalism was not only possible but needed. We should reframe our debate and campaigning over Europe into that inspiring vision.