Tottenham Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy has broken ranks with Keir Starmer’s leadership to call for a delay to Brexit. On BBC Question Time on 12 November, Lammy described the fast approaching chaos and called for an extension to the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December (watch here).
Lammy’s arguments could certainly have been clearer, more emphatic and more left-wing, but he deserves major credit for making them. They stand out from the silence on Brexit smothering almost the entire labour movement.
I don’t think any other Labour MP, even on the backbenches, has called for extension. Few are saying much of anything about Brexit. The Love Socialism group of MPs (formerly Love Socialism Hate Brexit) has just restarted its social media – but is saying nothing about Brexit…
As the moment of the crash approaches, trade unions have become even quieter, despite what it will mean for jobs and workers’ rights.
Liberal or right-wing Labour commentator Will Hutton reports in the Observer that “the Labour party, apparently, is even debating voting for Johnson’s deal to show it has left Remain behind”.
“It’s a commentary on our times”, writes Hutton, “that before a national emergency there is no sustained, high-profile effort to sound the tocsin.” “Too many of the potential countervailing forces... are afraid of offering high-profile arguments for something better out of fear of being cast as undemocratic Remoaners.”
Polls earlier this year showed a clear majority for extending the transition to deal with the Covid crisis. At the end of September, YouGov found 61% thought the government was handling Brexit badly - only 28% well - and a 50-39% majority saying Brexit was a mistake.
The circumstances of the pandemic, which created a majority for delay, have simultaneously distracted people from focusing on the problem of Brexit. Political leadership indicting the Tories on both was needed – but Labour and the unions abdicated responsibility.
Keir Starmer’s leadership has said as little as possible, to avoid being criticised on any side. This has helped the government drive towards a No Deal or hard Brexit with as little fuss and scrutiny as possible.
The leadership’s only clear statement of position has been to declare, with no reference to party democracy, that Labour will never campaign to rejoin the EU.
Anyone hoping that the departure of Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings from Downing Street will produce a sudden outbreak of rationality should stop hoping. Disagreements within the Tory hierarchy are within a narrow hard Brexit spectrum.
Reports indicate that Boris Johnson is “the hardest in the room” and “least willing to budge” in negotiations with the EU – and that he has a majority of cabinet members willing to follow him if he goes for No Deal.
On 15 November Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney suggested that there was something like a week or ten days left to avoid No Deal.
We face vast economic disruption, transport chaos, shortages in medicine, food and technologies, and aggressive attempts to make the working class pay for the crisis – if there is a deal. The average calculation of the hit to the economy from leaving the European single market with a deal is 4% – on top of destruction from the pandemic’s second wave. Without one, 6%.
To mitigate the coming collapse, and prepare for the next round of battles, we should rally as much as possible of the left and labour movement to demand Brexit is delayed, so the Tories’ disastrous plans can be subjected to real scrutiny and debate.
Talk about a positive Labour agenda for Europe is empty without opposing the Tories. The Labour and union leaders should be held to account for their refusal to fight the Tories or even expose what they are doing. We must demand Labour opposes a Tory Brexit deal, if they get one, and fights every aspect of their plans.