No blocking and No hard Brexit – Abstain on Article 50

photo by gary knight
Below and here we present two positions on what approach Labour should take to article 50 from Socialist Resistance supporters:

The vote for Brexit in last year’s referendum and the election of Trump are part of the same shift to the right in politics. The left was divided on how to vote in the referendum. Now the argument has resurfaced on how to vote on the Bill going through Parliament for triggering Article 50, passing authority from House of Commons to Prime Minister to start negotiations to leave the EU. The Bill un-amended gives a free hand to May for a “hard” Brexit without MPs having a vote on the final withdrawal agreement.

Socialist Resistance argued for a vote to Remain in the referendum, not because we supported the EU (it is a thoroughly neoliberal institution), but because we believed that a vote to Leave would open the road to nationalism and racism. This is indeed what has happened.

We cannot now argue for another referendum to overturn the outcome of the one held last year. This would be seen as an affront to the voters, however close the result was. This is how it was felt in Ireland in 2008, when the Lisbon Treaty was rejected by 53% in a referendum. The Irish government then held another referendum a year later, through which it managed to overturn the outcome of the previous one.

A vote in Parliament now against the Bill triggering Article 50 would also be seen as an attempt to frustrate the outcome of the referendum. That is why it is wrong to do that.

Jeremy Corbyn and many other MPs have put forward amendments that would protect in the negotiations workers and environmental rights, EU nationals in Britain, and ensure that a “meaningful vote” is taken by Parliament on the final deal. The dilemma that now faces Jeremy Corbyn is that he has announced that Labour MPs must vote for the Bill triggering Article 50, even if all these amendments are defeated. Passing the Bill un-amended would give a free hand to Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Davis to pursue a “hard” Brexit. This would deepen and accelerate neoliberal attacks.

The tactic on voting on the Bill is now the subject of intense discussion on the left. Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary and a Corbyn supporter, argues in the the Guardian of the 7 February, that he “supported Labour’s vote in favour of article 50 last week, but the bill should not be allowed to pass un-amended,” and to defy the Labour whip if necessary.

Corbyn, as well as Labour, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs should not frustrate the outcome of the referendum, but they should also not give the Tories a free hand by voting for the Bill un-amended. Voting for would be seen as falling at the first hurdle of a two-year long process and failing to oppose May’s hard Brexit. That means that at the final reading, MPs should abstain on the Bill.

Abstention allows MPs to show that they neither endorse May’s hard Brexit, nor that they are frustrating the referendum. Abstention on May’s hard Brexit allows Corbyn to reach out to the new young movement, which has sprung up since Trump’s election and which understands that Brexit and Trump are part of the same process. Abstention would also allow Labour MPs that are Corbyn supporters in constituencies with a high “Remain” vote in the referendum not to go against their constituents, and to respect a whip.

Corbyn and McDonnell envisage a sort of parliamentary guerilla war against the Tories during the next two years. That has its merits as it can stimulate divisions amongst the Tories, and prepare for a closer working relationship with the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. This could be a step forward in preparing the way for a Corbyn-led anti-austerity government after the next general election.

Whatever voting tactic is eventually adopted by Corbyn on the Bill triggering Article 50, the key issue now is to mobilise to put pressure on MPs and government to ensure the content of the “withdrawal” agreement defends workers and environmental rights. The first milestone in the mobilisation is the demonstration on Saturday 4 March for the NHS. The NHS is the Tories weakest point, and the demonstration should be the biggest for years.

In preparation for the parliamentary guerrilla war and the mobilisations, Corbyn and McDonnell should develop some sort of “Charter of Citizens’ and Workers’ Rights” along with an “Economic and Social Plan for post-Brexit”.  Obvious measures would include the end to austerity; the extension and investment in public services and industries; taxing wealth, high income and financial transactions; and the freedom of movement as currently exists. This could prepare the manifesto for the next general election which is likely to take place when the final “withdrawal” agreement is being reached. The campaign for the general election would then be framed as a rejection of the lies and xenophobia peddled for Brexit, against austerity and for the renewal of the welfare state and public services.

Fred Leplat


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4 Comments on No blocking and No hard Brexit – Abstain on Article 50

  1. Mark Findlay // 7th February 2017 at 7:05 pm // Reply

    I agree more with Fred’s point of view. After the amendments are defeated (which is likely), I don’t think simply voting the government’s bill through is the right answer. Labour should at least abstain and, importantly explain why. The Brexit vote was rooted in racism and opposition to this is key. Labour along with ourselves should be very clear on this. Voting the bill through gives the government a blank cheque. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that anything will come back to parliament until a either a deal has been cooked up or it’s clear that the government is marching us towards a cold Brexit with no deal and they intend to simply make the UK into a tax haven. Either way, the attacks on the working class will be massively increased. The parliamentary vote that then takes place will likely be a sham consultation; a take-it or leave-it.

  2. You give the example of Ireland, where establishment twice repeated a vote because it didn’t get the result it wanted. An example of the bourgeoisie showing the sort of respect for its democracy that some on the left are afraid to emulate. It’s called fighting for your class interests.

    In my view it is very simple. Brexit of any sort will be a disaster for the working class but a ‘hard’ Brexit is the worst and the only one on offer. When the final vote on it is taken it will be either this hard Tory Brexit or no deal but out of the EU, in effect the deregulated, low wage model threatened by Philip Hammond. Socialists have a duty to explain this and to fight to prevent it and no vote from a reactionary referendum should prevent us from continuing to fighting the result. Since when did we stop fighting the election of a Tory government just because it was democratically elected?

    This is an elementary duty; one that will increasingly be proved to be the right course as the effects of Brexit bite. The alternative is to wait until so much shit has hit the fan even the most clueless react against it. Hardly a form of political leadership.

    See my arguments on this blog:

  3. This is closest to what I like in the debate in Socialist Resistance, but I would go a bit further. I would call for a vote against, which I think is actually the closest to an ‘active abstention’ possible in the Commons (it is in that sense that I can understand Fred Leplat call for abstention, if he sees it as something active as opposed to a simple no vote – the problem is that it doesn’t work that way in the Commons). I don’t agree that arguing against the Tories Brexit now is in some way arguing against ‘the will of the British people’. They have not spoken, they have been corralled into a false choice and the worst option. This false choice now, which hands over power to May, is even worse. I’m not in favour, on principle, of the EU (I agree with Fred that it is a neoliberal institution) and I’m not in favour at all of nationalist ‘independence’. Voting against would also be a better way of allying with Lucas and the SNP.

  4. Of the points made in both Alan’s and Fred’s posts and the comments to those posts, those supporting Fred’s position outweigh those made in Alan’s post, and, I think, fairly convincingly. We do not have to respect the result of a poorly framed and organised referendum in which only one of the two options had any chance of its consequences being understood, the status quo option. The comsequences of the leave option, even now, cannot be known since negotiations haven’t started. Yes, there were a few things that were predictable like the rise in racist attacks and rise in anti-immigration views.
    Assuming that referendum(s) were the right way to go about the decision making, there should have been two: One at the outset with options (a) do nothing, i.e., status quo (b) enter negotiations to leave the EU; and second one at the end of negotiation with options (a) remain in the EU (b) leave the EU on the terms of the negotiations.

    We must fight now for protection of workers’ rights, free movement of people into and out of the UK, no to a UK tax haven and no to a deregulated low-wage economy.
    As has been pointed out, this approach gives us an opportunity to work with many young people, the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru as well as many in the Labour Party.

    By the way, the “argues” link in Fred’s article doesn’t work. It can be corrected by deleting “mailto:”, which wrongly prefixes “https://www.the guardian. . . . ” in the source code. A further mistake is that the intended article is actually dated Monday 6th February and is by Rowena Mason about Manuel Cortes’s position. Did Fred mean the article by Manuel Cortes in 7th February Guardian?

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