On 9 November Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that “we can’t stop Brexit”. But Labour can.
The Tories and the DUP are divided about May’s sketched-out soft-ish Brexit deal. If Labour MPs vote solidly against May’s deal, it probably can’t get through Parliament.
That reflects the fact that May’s proposals are unpopular — in surveys, 73% of the think the negations are going badly. The “hard” Brexit formulas favoured by the Tory right are unpopular. A “no deal” Brexit is more unpopular still.
Although a lot of people are still shrugging and saying that Brexit must still go through, even if with a bad result, not many positively want any of the Brexit formulas on the table. In a straight for-and-against referendum, none of the Brexit formulas can be confident of a majority. So: all the Brexit formulas can be stopped.
Even if a slight majority voted for Brexit as a vague general idea in June 2016, a majority can be mobilised against all the actual Brexit formulas. And at that point, if Labour says clearly that experience has shown that the whole business was a dead end, then Labour can win a majority for Remain.
Here is what Corbyn said: Spiegel: Not just Labour, but the whole country is extremely divided at the moment — not least because of Brexit. If you could stop Brexit, would you? Corbyn: We can’t stop it. The referendum took place. Article 50 has been triggered. What we can do is recognise the reasons why people voted Leave...
Spiegel: Wouldn’t you face pretty much the same problems as Prime Minister Theresa May if you were in charge of the Brexit negotiations? Corbyn: No, because we wouldn’t be trying to face towards the deregulated economy of the United States, which the one wing of the Tory Party is trying to do all the time. We would want to make a new and comprehensive customs union with the European Union, one that would obviously protect the Irish border — that’s crucial — but also ensure that our supply chains worked in both directions.
In fact even the Tories will have Britain sticking to EU rules until the end of 2021 at least. Brexit can be stopped, given the will to do so.
Corbyn’s general line has been that Labour would negotiate a “workable” plan in place of the Tories’ “chaotic” Brexit. Really that comes down to an empty claim that Labour has defter negotiators than the Tories.
“One wing” of the Tory party does favour a deregulated “offshore economy” model of Brexit. But it is a minority. The majority does not want to risk the EU putting up high trade barriers against what it perceives as an attempt to undercut.
Corbyn’s attempt to differentiate from the Tory majority by differentiating from the Rees-Mogg wing of the Tories rings hollow. Sienna Rodgers on LabourList sums it up: “The plain truth is that Corbyn has not changed his views on Brexit, and neither has Starmer, regardless of whatever compromise a very long compositing meeting in Liverpool came up with... The leadership – though it maintains that ‘all options are on the table’ – has never wavered from the belief that the mood of the country isn’t favourable to another referendum...”
In other words, the leadership fobbed us off at Labour Party conference. Labour conference also showed that the rank and file of the labour movement is turning against Brexit.
Call the leaders to account! Labour must vote solidly against any Tory Brexit deal. It must spell out the conclusion from two and a half years’ experience since June 2016: “Remain and Rebel” — meaning, remain and stir up a cross-Europe working-class movement for democracy and social standards across the EU — is the only answer that can serve working-class interests.