Brexit will be the culmination of the British right’s most successful project since Thatcherism and Andy Stowe argues that Labour must offer voters a chance to vote on the deal that is eventually negotiated.
Roughly speaking, the older and more right wing you are, the more likely you were to have voted for Brexit. YouGov say that 95% of UKIP voters, 61% of Tories and 64% of people over 65 voted for the British state to leave the European Union (EU). By contrast 71% of 18-24 year olds, 80% of Green and 65% of Labour voters voted to remain in it.
There are some voices on the left arguing for a “People’s Brexit“, a phenomenon as likely as a “people’s unicorn”. They are right to point out that the European Union is “is a trade bloc meant to favour its member capitalist countries”. More precisely it’s meant to favour the German economy in particular by opening the markets of member states to German industrial products and enforcing the Bundesbank’s model of fiscal rigour. We have always said that it’s a reactionary bosses’ club.
There are circumstances in which we would argue that withdrawing from the European Union would be the right thing to do. If, for example, a Labour government wanted to implement a radical socialist manifesto which undid the neoliberal privatisation of public services and took swathes of the economy out of the private sector’s hand, it would be challenged by the EU. The recent history of the pauperisation of the Greek working class at the hands of that organisation shows how ruthless it’s prepared to be. A radical Labour government would have to assemble a coalition of the unions, Labour voters and all those who stood to gain from its programme to face down the bureaucrats’ threats and be willing to walk out of the EU if necessary.
A departure in these circumstances would be a progressive rebellion against neo-liberalism. A Labour government willing to do it would be committed to high standards of environmental protection, workers’ rights and free movement. It would be a message to the workers of Europe that it’s possible to defy the EU.
That is not what’s on offer at the moment. The Brexit of Rees-Mogg, Johnson and Duncan-Smith is explicitly anti-immigration, for the removal of workers’ rights and protections for the environment. There is absolutely nothing progressive in it and it’s due to happen on Friday 29 March, 2019.
It would be wrong of Labour to call for a referendum which questions the validity of the 2016 result. We may not like it, but a majority voted for it. However, they still have absolutely no idea what sort of a deal they voted to get. Johnson spent weeks lying to them about the extra cash that would go to the NHS. They weren’t told that their freedom to live and work in Europe on equal terms to citizens of member states would be taken away from them. They weren’t told that the virtually inevitable return to a hard border in Ireland could well see the rebirth of armed activity by Irish republicans.
Making the case for a referendum on the final terms of a Brexit deal is popular among Labour supporters. In a YouGov survey 78% of them said it’s their preferred option. Even larger majorities want to remain in the customs union and the single market. Their view of these institutions may be overly positive but it’s one John McDonnell is moving towards when he says “That for us means as close a relationship to the single market as we possibly can, and possibly a customs union.”
Unless there is an election within the next few months the terms of the Brexit deal will have been set by the hard right of the Tory party. That is bound to make it unfavourable to the interests of working people and especially to those EU nationals living and working in Britain. Labour should insist that EU citizens living in the British state are given the vote that was denied them in the original referendum. People should have the right to reject or ratify.That’s how we will defeat Johnson and Rees-Mogg’s reactionary chauvinist project.