Make Labour fight Brexit

Submitted by AWL on 5 September, 2019 - 10:34 Author: Editorial
road to brexit

So far, so good! — as we go to press, on Wednesday 4 September. Britain’s poundshop Mussolini, the lying public-school bully-boy prime minister Boris Johnson, has been decisively beaten in two House of Commons votes.

There will be almost surely a request to the European Union for an extension of the leaving date to 31 January 2020. Johnson does not have enough support in the House of Commons to carry out his threat to get round the decision by calling an instant general election.

Johnson tried to override parliamentary democracy by shutting down Parliament, hoping that would give him space to get “no deal” by pushing aside Parliament like a tinpot dictator. He has been checked.

The fight against Brexit is far from won. But it goes on. It can be won.

All in all, British politics is even more of a shambles than before the victories in Parliament.

The Tory party may be experiencing a major split. The parliamentary Tory party has already split. If the Brexit party stands, as it threatens to, in every constituency, the consequences for the Tory party are incalculable. If instead Farage goes in with Johnson, as he says he will if Johnson fights an election for “no deal”, that too will disrupt the Tory party.

The general election that is likely once the old deadline for British withdrawal, 31 October, has passed, will be the most important general election for many decades.

The Labour leadership pledges to fight that general election on a platform that includes a new public vote on Brexit with a Remain option. Against the wishes of the leadership, Labour has been cornered by events into being de facto anti-Brexit — against no deal, and against all available deals. That is good.

The vicious media campaign against Jeremy Corbyn ensures that he is doing very badly in opinion polls. But in the 1979 general election Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader was doing badly in the polls and Labour prime minister James Callaghan very well.

That did not presage the results of the general election then (unfortuately). Likewise the result of an election in the next months is not set in advance.

Not since the disputes over Free Trade over a century ago has an issue divided Britain as Brexit does now. An incompetent lightweight Tory prime minister, David Cameron, called a referendum he didn’t have to call on Britain’s relation to the EU.

The Brexitists, including Boris Johnson, lied and misrepresented the issues and prospects for a UK outside the European Union. The campaign against Brexit was lamentably bad.

The then-new leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies, ran a campaign against Brexit which was uncertain and scarcely audible, and so much so that it contributed to the result.

The historical perspective in which the European Union had come into existence over decades — state conflicts in Europe that triggered two world wars, in the second of which sixty million people perished — went more or less unvoiced, unheard, and unexamined in the campaign. That was Labour’s fault. (Who could expect the “official” Tory and big business campaign to explain such things?)

The Brexitists won by a million votes, 17 million against 16 million. Opinion has shifted heavily since then, as the realities of Brexit have become clearer. The majority for Brexit was very small for such a gigantic decision.

Though people had voted with little knowledge of what exactly they were voting for — the Brexiters outlined no actual Brexit formula, still less a “no deal” one — the big political parties accepted the result as if it were the last word in democracy.

The Theresa May government worked for a negotiated British withdrawal, a form of “soft Brexit”.

Insuperable opposition to the withdrawal deal negotiated with the rest of the EU was generated by Tory MPs’ objections to the “Irish backstop”.

If Britain withdrew from the EU, the border between the 26 and the Six Counties of Ireland would be the UK-EU border — the only UK-EU land border.

In the years since the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, that border has more or less vanished as a physical barrier. Recreating a hard border would bring great economic disruption and might well bring back a serious level of Republican militarism.

A decisive majority in the Six Counties had voted against Brexit, though the hard-core Unionists voted for it. Brexit would bring a new partition of Ireland against the will of the majority on both sides of the border.

Nothing showed the decadence of British politics more clearly than the “discussion” which now developed on the Irish border. All the experts on such things, across the world, testified that a border that divided the UK from the EU could not but be a hard one.

The EU stood against a new hard border. British politicians were satisfied to talk airily of finding a “technological” solution. But they could not say what that would be. It was a fiction. But discussion in Britain went on as if that fiction could become truth. Much of it simply lacked a grip on the realities involved.

Three times Tory MPs imposed Commons defeat on May’s agreement with the EU, swearing that they would never agree to the clause on Ireland.

Those who said a “people’s vote” on the matter was the only democratic recourse were damned as opposing the will of the majority in the 2016 referendum.

That was sacred! That was the only possibility that was “democratic”.

One, two, and three years have passed, during which the 2016 referendum result has aged and been discredited by the stage-by-stage revelations of what Brexit would actually mean. But the basic doctrine of living parliamentary democracy, that no parliament can bind its successors, was ignored by those determined to treat the 2016 result as a fetish.

Unless there is some unpredictable earthquake in Parliament that allows Johnson to pre-empt the putting-back of the Brexit deadline to 31 January, a new date will be set for the Brexit deadline, and Brexit will be fought over in a general election before then.

This time round the Labour Party must campaign vigorously and with conviction for Remain. If the leadership does not do that, the rank and file in the local Labour Parties must take matters into their own hands and do it. We must raise a loud voice in favour of European unity.

Anything less will be a betrayal of working-class internationalism and of all the workers of Europe, including the British. Brexitists in the Labour Party and in the labour movement are, on this, downright reactionary!

We can and should fight the capitalist and bureaucratic rules and structures of the European Union — but in alliance with the workers and the labour movements of Europe.

Narrow-minded British or English nationalism is poison to our labour movement, and should be fought against as the poison it is.

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