We’ve pushed Parliament into instructing Boris Johnson to drop his plans for a crash no deal Brexit on 31 October. Next we must force the calling of a new public vote, Remain vs the available Brexit formulas.
The referendum of June 2016 was never a good way to make a decision on this (with poor information, with EU citizens living in Britain excluded, with British citizens living in the EU excluded, with 16-17 year olds excluded).
It is no basis at all for Boris Johnson to claim authority from it more than three years later, when the choices are clearer and different, and when the electorate is different.
The warping effect of that referendum on British politics can be undone only by another public vote, on the real choices. Labour has committed to call a new public vote with a Remain option if it wins office.
Boris Johnson has been pushed back for now in his drive for a crash “no deal” Brexit.
He wants the “crash” effect of “no deal” to open the way for economic and social “shock therapy”. Using the model of “disaster capitalism”, he plans for people to accept some chaos and disruption as a mandate for the improvised deals he will then seek and for erasing the modest social protections introduced in Britain under EU “levelling-up rules”.
His orientation is to a deal with Donald Trump’s USA, which will mean adopting economic and social rules more like Trump’s USA.
He still says openly that he wants to evade the law passed through Parliament on 9 September instructing him to seek an extension of the Brexit deadline if he doesn’t have a deal by 19 October.
When Parliament voted on 9 September to instruct the Government to release (by 11 September) the messages within the top levels of government about “no deal” planning, the *Guardian* commented wearily:
“It does not seem likely that the government will comply… Last year Labour used [a similar parliamentary] mechanism to require the publication of the attorney general’s legal advice about the withdrawal agreement. The government initially ignored the request, and it only complied a month later when MPs passed another motion finding the government in contempt of parliament...
“Even if it were passed, a contempt motion on its own would not force Boris Johnson’s government to comply. Theresa May’s government did, but May respected the authority of parliament…”
Johnson will try one way or another to flout the law. We must be ready to protest on the streets.
The proroguing of Parliament will help him a bit, because now, until 14 October, Parliament has no way to call him to account. Left-wing MPs protested in the Commons chamber when Parliament was shut down, but the Labour leadership and the other opposition parties let it pass.
We should demand Labour prepares to reconvene Parliament — even without the Queen’s approval — if necessary before 14 October to check new ploys by Johnson.
One possible ploy is Johnson simply resigning. In that case Labour should seek support for a strictly single-shot caretaker
government which will send the Brexit-extension letter to the EU and call a general election.
As former Tory minister Amber Rudd explained when she resigned on 8 September, there is no evidence that Johnson is seeking a Brexit deal. The alternative to Johnson’s “no deal” is not May’s withdrawal agreement, even tweaked or modified at the edges, but to recognise the facts.
Brexit is regression.
• It is suppression of the free movement across borders within Europe which has existed, and expanded horizons for millions of people, for decades now
• It will go together (Johnson’s government has made this plain) with even harsher measures against other migrants, especially asylum-seekers
• It heightens borders between countries and tensions between communities
• It means reintroduction of a “hard border” in Ireland
• It can’t mean complete economic walling-off — not even the Tory ultras think that possible — so it will mean economic linkages mediated by trade deals with Trump and others on Trump’s terms
• It makes it more difficult for the labour movement in Britain to link up with labour movements across Europe for a fight against capitalist and bureaucratic structures across the whole continent.
The healthier and more vital parts of the Labour left, and the majority of Labour members, have pushed the Labour leadership into opposing the available Brexit formulas and pledging a new public vote with a Remain option. The way to get a “people’s vote” is to elect a Labour government.
But the Labour leadership’s shift to a de-facto Remain stance has been slow and ostentatiously reluctant.
That makes it difficult to convince voters. Labour’s rank and file will seek to use Labour Party conference, coming up on 21-25 September, to straighten the lines on this, and commit Labour to a clear “Remain and Transform” message.
If, where, and to the extent that the Labour leadership fails to take up that fight, local Labour Parties must make good, by clear “Remain and Transform” campaigns for the general election.
Vote Labour in all constituencies
The People’s Vote campaign, led by Alastair Campbell and other figures from Blair-era Labour, is pushing for “tactical voting” in the coming general election.
Instead of backing Labour or Tories, it will name a leading “Remain” candidate to back in each constituency — Lib Dem in some, Labour in others, Plaid, SNP, or rebel-Tory sometimes.
We need programmes for advance, not just a negative avoidance of Brexit. Remain, in and of itself, promises no improvement on the NHS, on education, on workers’ rights, on migrant rights, or on climate change.
The only way to open the door to those improvements at the coming election is to vote Labour and redouble efforts to make the labour movement a strong enough force to push a Labour government into carrying through labour-movement policies on those issues.
There is also a “tactical” problem with the oh-so-cunning “tactical vote”. Given the first-past-the-post system, very likely the result of the coming general election will depend heavily on the relation between the slice of Tory votes taken by the Brexit party, and the slice of Labour votes taken by the Lib Dems and Greens.
A “tactical” swing of Labour votes to the Lib Dems could end up letting the Tories win the general election even with a mediocre vote.