More and more Labour activists are demanding that Labour’s leaders break off the talks with the Tories on a Brexit deal.
If the last few months of political turmoil have shown anything, it is that no good or acceptable (left alone left-wing) Brexit deal is remotely on the table.
In accord with the wishes of the big majority of Labour members and supporters, the electorate should have a chance to end this mess by a new public vote with an option to Remain.
But the talks are going on in secret, with no report-back other than brief comments to the media by Labour figures. They have been going on for two weeks now, and according to Tory deputy prime minister David Lidington are set to continue until Parliament reconvenes on 23 April, or maybe a few days later.
What has so far stopped a rotten deal being cooked up and slammed through on the back of “Brexit fatigue” has not been any Labour insistence on working-class or democratic principle, but the Tories’ internal divisions.
Theresa May and her close associates would probably be willing to add a customs union with the EU to the “declaration on future relations” (after December 2020) which accompanies their “withdrawal agreement” (stating the conditions for the UK to quit the EU but remain within EU rules for a “transition period”).
They have not done so because that step would risk an outright split in the Tory party. But, as the options narrow and political discredit heaps on them, they may yet decide that the risk is the lesser among a string of evils.
That outcome would mean Labour making itself responsible for enabling a rotten Brexit deal and allowing the Tories to get through their crisis with reduced damage.
The talks are also proceeding – according to the Labour negotiators’ words to the press – without any argument between Tories and Labour about free movement and migrant workers’ rights.
Yet we know that the Tories’ Immigration Bill would give them open-ended powers to enforce drastic restrictions. Their plan is to restrict entry to workers with already-fixed jobs at over £30,000 a year.
So-called “unskilled” workers, on less than £30,000 a year, would only be able to seek permits for twelve months at a time, and be barred from seeking another permit for a further 12 months after each 12 month stint.
Most migrant workers would be reduced to an insecure, temporary, vulnerable status, making it very difficult for them to integrate into society and into the labour movement, or even to enforce what minimal legal rights might remain to them.
The vast majority of Labour members and supporters are for free movement. Either they are positively for it, as such, seeing it as an expansion of human rights and an enrichment of culture and of the labour movement; or they are for Remain or a Norway-Plus variant, and accept that free movement comes with those options.
Some people in Jeremy Corbyn’s Leader’s Office have been saying that Labour’s commitment to a new public vote on any Brexit deal which may get through Parliament applies only if Labour considers the deal a bad one.
That stance can only look like cynical manipulation to the millions who want a new public vote: “you can have your vote if we don’t like the deal. But if we do like it, then tough luck”. And not just look like that! It’s an attitude which can come out of the Leader’s Office only because of the dominance in it of long-time Stalinists.
Moreover, even the fudge passed at Labour’s conference in September 2018 explicated a new public vote on the argument that a government which had thought a deal good enough to go through Parliament should not fear to put it to the electorate.
Rather than retreating from its “new public vote” commitment, Labour should be arguing for that new public vote to include EU migrants (who are on the electoral register and vote in local and Euro elections) and 16-17 year olds (who are most affected by the Brexit decision, and voted in Scotland’s separation referendum).
Rather than haggling with the Tories, Labour’s leaders should be discussing and debating with Labour and trade-union members.
Labour’s Brexit policy is scarcely less of a mess than the Tories’.
Labour for a Socialist Europe, Open Labour, and other groups are demanding an urgent special Labour conference to debate out a coherent policy.
Love Socialism, Hate Brexit MPs Tour
The emergence this year of “Love Socialism, Hate Brexit” as a group of left Labour MPs speaking out explicitly against Brexit, and organising with the wider anti-Brexit left, has been a positive development.
It was very helpful for organising the thousands-strong Left Bloc on the 23 March demonstration.
Now LSHB are going on tour, to speak to CLPs, trade union meetings and Momentum groups around the country.
This can help anti-Brexit activists get more organised, draw in new people and continue the discussion with those who are not yet convinced.
• Request a speaker here