No Surrender – a republican case against British Exit

Ireland and Tory Brexit

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender consider the importance of Irish republicanism in the fight against Tory Brexit and how we should answer Tory populist slogans about ‘parliament versus the people’.

The Tories had set the coming general election as a confrontation between the ‘parliament and the people’. Boris Johnson planned to represent the ‘will of the people’ and champion the fight against the liberal elites blocking Brexit. Her Majesty’s Government will deliver Brexit and pump money into the police and the NHS and order the employing class to raise the living wage offering to bribe us with billions of (our own) taxpayer’s money. The Queen read the Tory Brexit manifesto from the throne.

The essence of Tory Brexit is to leave the single market and customs union. Nobody voted for this. It was not on the ballot paper. Yet the Tories stole the mandate and refashioned it into a weapon for their master-plan of neo-liberal ‘global Britain’, for trade war against the EU and class war against the working class.

Leaving the single market and customs union opened up a fundamental contradiction between an open border within Ireland and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This peace treaty accepted Northern Ireland would remain in the UK with a peaceful economic and social integration of Ireland through the institutions of the European Union. Ireland has always been the major stumbling block for Tory Brexit.

Theresa May’s version of Tory Brexit was defeated by the combination of Irish republicanism and Her Majesty’s Opposition. Corbyn took away May’s majority in the 2017 general election and put her government in hock to the Democratic Unionist Party. Since Sinn Fein is absent from the Commons, Irish republicanism appears in the guise of its mortal enemy, as a party whose raison d’etre is opposition to Irish unity. Theresa May invented the all-UK Irish backstop to placate them before they finally sank her.

The Johnson government faces the same problem – Irish republicanism and Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is trying to marshal his rebellious MPs behind a ‘Labour Brexit’ which addresses a divided working class. His stance, as a ‘remain-democrat’, recognises this. His victory at the Labour conference offers the best chance of keeping the Parliamentary Labour Party sufficiently united to prevent any Tory Brexit before 31 October, if Labour is to have a chance of winning the general election.

Irish republicanism

Irish republicanism has long opposed British Crown powers used in Ireland. The fight for popular sovereignty, the rights of nations to self determination and the right for the Irish people to ratify constitutional treaties was recognised by the Good Friday Agreement. This might seem irrelevant in the rest of the UK, but it is part of a wider European democratic republican culture with relevant experience for England, Scotland and Wales.

Republicanism informs a democratic approach to the problems posed by the 2016 EU referendum not least in recognising the rights of nations to self determination. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU and England and Wales voted to leave. These mandates represent the sovereign ‘will of the people’ and form the parameters for any negotiated settlement.

Any agreement along these lines, or indeed any other agreement, must be put back to the people in a ratification referendum. The people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have democratic reasons to oppose Tory Brexit on different grounds from the Labour Party.

This republican case is not in itself a demand for a united Ireland or an independent Scotland. However, it rejects the assumptions and presumptions of British Unionism. It is based on democracy, internationalism and solidarity as the only means of bringing nations closer together. Hence the working class in England must not participate in, or give any support whatsoever, to the imposition of an Anglo-British exit on Ireland and Scotland.

Social republicans go beyond a purely democratic case against Brexit by recognising the interests of working people. The EU was set up in the interests of European business and finance. Trade unions and working people have no illusions in the EU and oppose any measures which worsen working class rights and conditions. Hence, there is both a democratic and a social case for the Northern Ireland and Scotland remaining, while the whole of the UK stays in the single market and customs union.

New Irish Deal

The Johnson government’s new proposals to leave the single market and customs union have made Northern Ireland a special case. This has been dubbed “Two borders for four years” with a ratification vote, initially to confirm the deal, but repeated every four years. Northern Ireland would remain in the single market with a regulatory border down the Irish Sea. It would leave the Customs union and this would necessitate a customs border between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland with customs checks in multiple locations away from the geographical land border.

Johnson had added the proposal that Northern Ireland is not subject to the EU’s so-called ‘level playing field’ requirements, which ensure minimum standards on workers’ rights, social conditions and environmental standards. This confirms the free market ‘race to the bottom’ aims of Tory Brexit.

This shift was not the end of the Tory compromise. The meeting between Johnson and Leo Veradka showed Johnson on a slippery slope to a predictable reality. (There now seems to be a new proposal to keep the whole of Ireland in the customs union). According to the Sunday Times “Johnson has been influence by Sedwell (Sir Mark Sedwell, Cabinet Secretary), who is also national security advisor, and by Michael Gove who had received security briefings “which he is said to have found sobering”. It is Irish republicanism not the DUP that has shaken them. (Sunday Times 13 October 2019)

The Johnson plan is significant from a republican perspective. The DUP backed the Crown’s original proposals and thus ‘sold out’ its previously declared principle that Northern Ireland could not have any agreement different to the rest of the UK. This ‘fear of republicanism’ party has shifted ground, perhaps belatedly recognising no-deal would alienate its business and farming base and increase support for a united Ireland.

Northern Ireland would now have unique arrangements. This is a concession to secure a deal in the interests of the City of London. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has now recognised that Northern Ireland has a right to ratify the withdrawal treaty with the EU. This right is confined to the Northern Ireland executive and Assembly rather than the Irish people. But there is no reason why the people of Northern Ireland and indeed the rest of Ireland, as in 1998, could not vote to ratify any deal.

Northern Ireland is a ‘special’ case owing to the long struggle for a united Ireland and because, in 2016, a majority voted to remain. The republican case is that these rights should be extended to Scotland which like Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Every national parliament (Scotland and Wales) should have the right to ratify and should extend this right the people. Although there is no English parliament, the people of England should have the same right to ratify any agreement.

Crown versus Parliament

Since 1945, UK politics centred in Westminster has been a contest between two class based parties, Tory and Labour, under the unionist constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament. Between 1975 and 1998 this changed as the UK joined the European Economic Community, agreed the Good Friday Agreement and set up devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. The 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 EU referendum brought ‘the people’ into the constitutional equation further exposing the democratic deficit and the ‘crisis of democracy’.

The Brexit crisis took shape in the struggle between the Crown and Parliament. Disputes have ranged over triggering Article 50 and whether the Crown or parliament has the right to ratify treaties with the EU. It led to battles over the rights of the Speaker and the House of Commons to control the parliamentary agenda with echoes from 1642. The Roundheads fired off the Benn Act and the Royalists replied with a volley of prorogation.

This has raised issues about the inner workings of the Crown. Did Johnson mislead the queen into legitimising an unlawful prorogation? Did he tell her the truth and she simply supported it. Did she know or suspect this was unlawful and undemocratic and do nothing about it? If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them?

Royalists always shield the monarch from criticism by claiming she had no choice except to do as she is told by her First Minister. If this is true, the monarch would, like the King of Italy, give legitimacy to an elected Mussolini acting to remove, or end, democratic rights. If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them? In any serious political crisis, constitutional monarchy reveals itself as useless or dangerous.

The depth of the crisis is indicted when the Queen is drawn into political controversy which normal politics seeks to avoid at all costs. The UK is shrouded in a constitutional fog where secrecy and oaths of loyalty conceal most of what is really going on. It reminds of the role of the third ‘parliament’, the Privy Council, along with the more well-known Commons and Lords. The monarch intervenes through her Privy Council of the ‘Great and Good’.

Jacob Rees Mogg described the process. It begins with the Prime Minister giving the Queen ‘Advice’. For all we know it may be discussed in the Queen’s weekly audience with her PM (chief executive). However, the monarch normally approves the ‘Advice’, but could reject it with serious constitutional implications. In practice, decisions are worked out before hand between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, through the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.

As a Privy Councillor, Jacob Rees Mogg went to Balmoral Castle for a Privy Council meeting with the Queen. (LBC Nick Ferrari 15 October 2019). He simply asked her if she agrees (to the use her Crown powers) to prorogue parliament. She replied “Approved” and then it became legal to implement the decision. Rees-Mogg did not lie to the Queen because this is a ‘rubber stamp’ process with no discussion. It was a significant precedent when this rubber stamp decision was overruled by the Supreme Court.

Parliament versus the people

The democratic struggle between Crown power and Westminster over their shared sovereignty has been the major battle. The Tories, both May and Johnson, have tried to flip this into populist demagogic terms about ‘parliament versus the people’. Johnson has set the coming general election as a confrontation between these two institutions

The Crown is not a democratic organisation. Johnson is not a representative of the people because they did not elect him. He was elected MP in one constituency and then chosen by his party which represents the interests of big business and the City of London. The Tories do not have majority of votes but a majority of seats. Johnson is selected by the monarch if the Tories have a majority and then inducted into the power structures and secrets of the Crown through the oaths of allegiance.

The responsibility for the ‘Brexit crisis’ has to be placed fairly and squarely with the Crown, not least with its chief executives, Cameron, May and Johnson. Negotiations have been conducted without consultation or transparency. So far, bad deals with the EU have failed to win a majority in parliament. After three years, nothing has been brought back to the people for democratic ratification.

Boris Johnson has appropriated English nationalism, appointing himself ‘Minister of the Union’, and adopting populist rhetoric about “people versus parliament”, in which the Crown represents the ‘will of the people’ to ‘get Brexit done’. This is designed to scapegoat parliament for the failure of the Crown to deliver a democratic agreement supported by parliament and the people.

Republicanism is the democratic answer to Tory populism. The socialist movement must warn the Tories that dabbling in authoritarian populism opens a can of worms. Working people must not vote to give the Crown more power to act as an elected dictatorship. The answer is to take power and become sovereign and liberate parliament from all monarchical institutions and Crown powers.

The Brexit fiasco is exposing the power of the Crown and the weakness of parliament within an antiquated unwritten constitution. This is creating the conditions for more authoritarian government to take over or for some kind of a popular democratic revolution. A political crisis is brewing which demands democratic answers with citizens’ assemblies, a parliament for England, a republican written constitution with the right of constituent nations to self determination.

14 October 2019

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Crossing the Rubi-con

Jack Conrad makes many useful insights and observations on the crisis faced by Corbyn and the socialist movement. (Weekly Worker 3 October 2019). But he ruins it with his central theory that “Communists reject referendum. These are a con – a means of fooling the people”.

The first statement is untrue or worse a lie, that is an untruth repeated when it is known to be false. The second statement is true. But it doesn’t mean all people are fooled all of the time, unless you think the masses are biologically ignorant or stupid. Even then, a communist answer to ignorance is participation in struggle not the principle of boycott.

I won’t repeat all the evidence on boycott except to remind readers that the Bolshevik programme advocated a referendum as a means of a (relatively) peaceful and democratic resolution to the national question. The right of nations to self determination without the right for a nation to vote on separation is a ‘con’. To put it simply the Bolsheviks preferred and advocated a referendum to having a civil war between nations.

Jack’s fundamental mistake is to raise one way of voting in liberal democracy as uniquely bad as “a means of fooling people”. This is the method of anarchism or ‘con-munism’. The list is massive. Capitalism (con), general elections (con), Labour Party (con), universal suffrage (con) are all means of “fooling the people” and not forgetting my favourite the ‘republi-con’.

Politics, in capitalist societies, in all its guises is designed as “a means of fooling people”. No communist should disagree with this. But anarchists believe that boycott is the answer, unless they change their minds. They would boycott the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion. They would change their minds if it seems a good idea or is not worth being condemned as a reactionary. As Groucho Marx said “these are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others”.

Now we turn to poor old Jeremy, who is doing better than most ignorant and stupid people imagine. He is in a hole. So he turns to Labour Party Marxists for advice. He believes they are a voice of the working class and not a con. He might ask “what is the road to socialism”? Labour Marxists might say “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you?” They might say “give up because con-munism is the only answer”.

Alternatively they might say “lets fight together to defeat Johnson with a working class strategy and tactics related to the actual balance of forces”. Should Corbyn call for a referendum? (No) Should he demand a general election now (No) or sooner or later (No)? Should he try to remove the dangerous Johnson from office? (No) Should he call a vote of no confidence? (No) Should he become a Caretaker PM? (No) Should he support another MP as Caretaker PM? (No) Should he call for a government of national disunity? (No) Is there anything else that makes sense? (No)

Jack has blocked and barricaded up every escape route and not just the blind alleys. The LPM seems no better. They have no answers and no way out of the cul-de-sac, having blocked off all the exits. Since it is easy to argue against every option, it is only fair to rise to the same challenge.

The Tory referendum has given the mantle of ‘democracy’ to the Right. The democratic answer to these reactionary ‘democrats’ who are ‘fooling the people’, is to listen to the people.

In 2016, the collective view of working people through their majorities was for England and Wales to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scottish to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or customs union. This is what every democrat should demand. This deal or any other deal (including a no-deal ‘clean break’) must be put to the people in a ratification (Yes/No) referendum.

This is simple, democratic and easy to understand. But it is impossible to fathom if your head is full of English (or Anglo-British) chauvinist and unionist crap which of course swamps the Labour Party. Corbyn was moulded politically in the same swamp.

Yet the interesting point is that it is close to, but different from, the position he and the Labour Party have taken. Corbyn has ignored the voters on Northern Ireland and Scotland. He hasn’t fully embraced the single market including EU free movement. Corbyn’s instinct is for the trade union idea of a ratification referendum, but as Jack says, he “has been dragged into adopting a second referendum”. As Jack recognises it is a big mistake to feed red meat to the reactionary ‘democrats’.

Of course the main task is to defeat Tory Brexit including the danger from No-Deal. Stopping Tory Brexit – whether defeating a Johnson deal or stopping no-deal – is the key to a Labour government. He could be ousted by a temporary caretaker government to call a general election or defeated in an election he calls.

The caretaker option is extremely unlikely because the liberals and reactionaries fear Corbyn more than Brexit or Johnson. Of course there can be no support for anybody other than Corbyn while he is leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition. If by some miracle Johnson gets a deal that must be put for ratification to the people, because parliament might agree with a section of Labour MPs voting for it.

So far because of his principled opposition to all referendum, Jack has failed to recognise the distinction between a ratification and a second or repeat referendum with remain option. However he says “while opinion polls show a clear majority wanting a “say” on any final Brexit deal, the result of a second referendum is far from certain”.

This tells us everything that we need to know. The people want to ratify or reject any deal (having a “say”) but are divided over the wisdom of re-running with a remain option reinforcing divisions in the working class.

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Corbyn’s victory

Today (24 September 2019) two major Brexit battles came to a head. The first was the vote at the Labour Party conference won by Corbyn and his allies. The second is the verdict at the Supreme Court that the Crown’s decision to prorogue parliament was illegal. Republicans have views on both but I will concentrate on Brexit.

Corbyn won an important victory at conference which should help defeat Tory Brexit and by occupying the centre ground have more chance to win the next election. As republicans and socialists we should critically support Corbyn’s battle against the ultra remain position of Watson, Thornberry, Blair and Starmer etc.

Labour’s position is clear enough despite the Tories claiming that you have to be a genius to understand it. Vote Labour and if Labour wins there will be a new set of negotiations and any deal will be put to the people in a referendum with a remain option. Once the deal has been done Labour will look at the facts and decide how it will campaign.

Republicans can identify three ways to leave the EU – Tory Brexit, Labour Brexit and Republican Exit. It is important to draw sharp lines between them. Strictly speaking ‘Brexit’ means the exit of the whole of the UK state. By contrast, republicans support the right of nations to self determination.

The Tories are determined to take the whole UK out of the single market and customs union. This is essential to their plan to impose a new and more hostile immigration regime on working people and open up the NHS and the UK domestic market to US corporate raiders and trade deals and to keep the City of London beyond EU regulation. There was no mandate for any of this.

A Labour Brexit was promised in the 2017 manifesto. In 2018 Labour conference added a ratification referendum. This should keep the UK in the single market and the customs union, both on democratic grounds and because it is in the best interests of the working class to oppose Tory Brexit. Current Labour policy only speaks of ‘close alignment to the single market’.

A republican exit recognises that England and Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and therefore supports a deal which delivers the mandates from the UK’s constituent nations. This rejects the imposition of a UK exit on Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Republicans point out that nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union because it was not on the ballot paper. Furthermore republicanism supports a ratification referendum making government more accountable to the people. It should be noted that a republican-exit for England and Wales is a republican-remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland. English exit and Irish remain are united by recognition of the rights of nations to self determination.

Republicans should support a ratification referendum which is quite different to a second referendum or the inclusion of a remain question to reverse the 2016 decision. This is a matter of tactics and timing. Put simply, there is no point a refighting the last war and coming up with more or less the same result. It is a dangerous gamble with the unity of the working class.

Since 2017 three trends have been fighting it out – ultra-Leave, remain-democrats and ultra-remain. Some object to the term ‘remain-democrats’ so we could call them the ‘centre’ ground between the two extreme positions. Nevertheless I still think the political centre is best identified as ‘remain-democrats’ who are in favour of remaining but accept the 2016 result (or some version of it).

The centre (remain-democrats) include a broad range of views from Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, to Stephen Kinnock and Lisa Nandy who are on the right-Centre. Jeremy Corbyn and Len McLuskey stand at the centre of the Centre. Republican exit should be located on the left of centre, as left remain-democrats.

In parliamentary terms the important difference is between Kinnock and his right-centre allies (40 MPs) and the Corbyn centre. Kinnock is prepared to support an anti-working class Tory Brexit in order to get Brexit done. He may back another Theresa May deal or a Johnson deal (May Mark 2). If Johnson delivers a Tory Deal, Kinnock and his Labour allies will line up with the Tories in parliament to deliver victory for Johnson. This will make Johnson’s victory in the subsequent general election more likely if not certain.

The Labour conference was the battle ground between Corbyn’s remain-democrat approach in the guise of Labour Brexit and a broad array of ultra remainers led by Watson, Thornberry, Starmer and the Blairites. As conference recognised Watson saw ultra remain as a way of undermining Corbyn and making sure he could not win the election. Fortunately Corbyn carried the day.

Had the ultra remain succeeded in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Brexit it would have liberated the Kinnock group to back a Tory Brexit, like the May Deal, if Johnson can find one. The consequence of an ultra-remain victory at the conference would therefore increase the likelihood that the UK would leave the EU on 31 October.

Corbyn’s victory has cut down or reduced the likelihood of the Kinnock Group of MPs being able to betray the working class in the name of the 2016 referendum. It increases the possibility of Labour winning the next general election as the only party that will let the people decide. Labour will have a case to appeal to both parts of a divided working class.

The reckless ultra-remain see tactics, not as an assessment of the balance of forces, but an opportunity for virtue signalling. Look at me the ‘Peacock of Remainers’ who don’t mind if the UK leaves the EU on 31 October as long as we can parade and preen like Emily Thornbury, Tom Watson or Jo Swinson.

Republicans in England should position themselves in the remain-democrat camp or on the centre ground and to the left of Corbyn within the same political space. Republicans should give critical support for Corbyn against ultra leave and ultra remain whilst criticising Corbyn’s inconsistent democratic stance and the danger of a remain question on the ballot before the case has been won and public opinion has shifted significantly.

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Johnson’s victory

he election of Johnson as Prime Minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election.

In 2016 the centre ground shifted as millions of people voted to leave the EU in England and Wales and to remain in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nobody voted to leave the single market and the customs union. Of course any deal negotiated with the EU must be referred back to the people for ratification.

Labour’s policy was very close to occupying this centre ground. After 2016 Labour became a ‘remain-democrat’ party signalled by Corbyn agreeing to trigger article 50. This policy was then set out in the 2017 Labour Manifesto and the 2018 Labour conference policy. It enabled the Parliamentary Labour Party to remain sufficiently united to defeat May’s deal. Labour led a series of victories over May’s Tory Brexit which led to her sacking.

Labour has recently made a big tactical blunder that will help Johnson secure a Tory Brexit. The party abandoned the centre ground and swung to the left to become a ‘Remain and Reform’ party to fight it out with the Liberal Democrats. It is a crack pot idea pushed onto Corbyn by Blair, Campbell, Wes Streeting and fronted by arch witch finder, Tom Watson. Corbyn could have fended them off until Thornberry, McDonnell, Abbott and other left MPs like Clive Lewis backed a remain referendum.

This has created a Labour shambles not least because ‘remaining’ is in contradiction to calling a general election for a Labour government to go back to Brussels for another deal. But more than this it has released around 29 Labour MP’s who had been shackled by the promise to respect the referendum result. It had enabled Tory Brexit to be blocked by Labour MPs from both leave and remain.

Now the new PM is a man with a plan. He is going to get Tory Brexit through the Commons and then fight a general election. How can he pull it off? He is threatening no-deal as a negotiating tactic. In practice he will seek to come back with a disguised version of the May Deal. The Tories will see through this disguise but pretend not to notice.

Fear stalks the Tory party. Vote for the Johnson Deal or hand the keys to number 10 to the extreme ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn. At the same time 29 Labour MPs released from their obligations by Labour’s switch to an ultra- remain party will back the Johnson deal and get it over the line.

Peter Mandelson and his mouthpiece, Tom Watson, will have delivered a win-double – helping the Tories to secure a majority in the Commons and hence to win a victory over Corbyn in the general election.

Of course there is a democratic case for working people to vote in a ratification referendum (i.e. Yes/No without a Remain option). The idea there is a parliamentary majority for a second referendum with a remain question is for the birds. The only practical purpose for adding a remain question is to undermine Corbyn and further divide the working class.

We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May-deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course Johnson will have to throw the DUP under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn.

This is not to say that Johnson is brave enough to sacrifice Irish Unionism so essential for Tory politics. Perhaps they will come up with something more complex to save the Tories from a terminal crisis. The main point is that Watson’s ultra-remain victory was a setback for Labour and may be the point when Corbyn was finally scuppered by a fatal combination of his enemies and his allies.

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Corbyn switches

The 2016 referendum marked a significant change in the UK’s constitutional practice. It shifted the democratic centre of British politics. England and Wales voted to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union. It required Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate a deal with the EU and, in recognition of popular sovereignty, return to the people to ratify in a Yes/No referendum.

The Tories rejected most of this. Leaving the single market and customs union is the crucial aspect of their version of Brexit for their plan for a free trade with Trump and US health corporations and to ramp up immigration control and a build up hostile racist environment. The Tories, as English unionists, are determined to impose their policy on the majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland who voted to remain in the EU.

Corbyn seized the centre ground. He took a ‘remain-democrat’ stance when he voted to trigger Article 50, in the 2017 general election manifesto and in the 2018 Labour conference resolution. Labour already supported a ratification referendum but not a Remain question. However Labour fudged the democratic issue in calling for ‘a’ customs union, instead of remaining in the actual one, and aligning with the single market instead of remaining in it. Most significantly Labour failed to demand the democratic right of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

Nevertheless, Labour’s imperfect version of a remain-democrat position enabled Corbyn to block Tory Brexit and wage a successful parliamentary struggle against it. May was beaten three times in the Commons and eventually forced to resign. Thanks to Labour’s fight, the UK is still in the EU at least until 31 October. Those who oppose leaving should be singing Corbyn’s praises. The very opposite is true. He has been isolated as former allies like John McDonnell, Diane Abbot, Paul Mason and others have backed Watson.

There has been a massive campaign waged by Tom Watson and the Labour right to destabilise and eventually overthrow Corbyn. Watson’s transitional programme demands Labour switch to a second referendum for remain and reform, expel the socialist left through the anti-Semitic witch-hunt, and demand the sack for Corbyn’s closest advisors. It has been a continuous barrage of lies, slanders and misrepresentations which has brought Labour into disrepute.

The real winners in Watson’s battle against Corbyn are the Tories. By adopting a liberal ‘remain and reform’ unity in the Labour PLP may break-down. Mays’s deal, which was defeated in parliament, could conceivably be resurrected and repackaged. As section of Labour MPs released from any need to follow Labour discipline may vote with the Tories. The unintended consequence of Labour shifting to remain could be victory for Tory Brexit.

Corbyn has been resisting and standing by the 2018 conference policy, backed up by Len McCluskey. But on Monday five union leaders, including Unite, backed a switch. Corbyn signalled the change after the shadow cabinet meeting. He wrote to Labour members saying “As democrats, Labour accepted the result of the 2016 referendum. In our 2017 manifesto, Labour also committed to oppose a No Deal Brexit and the Tories’ Brexit plans – which threatened jobs, living standards, and the open multicultural society that we as internationalists value so much.” He continues “Labour set out a compromise plan to try to bring the country together based around a customs union, a strong single market relationship and protection of environmental regulations and rights at work”.

He reassures members “We continue to believe this is a sensible alternative that could bring the country together” and says “Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote”. So far democrats can agree.

However Corbyn has added the call for a remain question on any ballot paper. This introduces a new compromise into Labour’s existing compromise. Labour still wants a general election for a Labour government to go the Brussels and negotiate an alternative deal. But then Labour comes back and supports ‘remain’ in a referendum against its own deal! This is a real problem without an answer as yet.

9 July 2019

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Remain-Democrat: Labour’s Brexit option

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender offer critical support for Labour’s Remain-Democrat position on Brexit, but argue Corbyn needs to lead by making the democratic case more powerfully.

General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Dave Ward (New Statesman, 7 June 2019), says “Labour won in Peterborough because it was able to cut through the Brexit issue” by avoiding the pitfall of a second referendum and refocusing people’s minds “on the other profound issues facing our country and their local communities”. He continues “I can tell you now that Labour would not have won in Peterborough” with the demand for a second referendum. “Coming out, all guns blazing, for a referendum to keep us in the EU would have been a gift to the Brexit Party and deflated Labour’s turnout operation”.

“Across England and Wales there are hundreds of seats – just like Peterborough – that Labour must win to secure a majority in parliament at the next election. It certainly will not do that if it ends up nailing its colours to the idea of overturning the result of a democratic referendum which the political class promised it would respect”. This is fine as far as it goes. Labour has avoided, for now, the poison chalice of a second referendum. Ward’s argument against it is based on the balance of votes to be won or lost. In 2017 Labour had eight million remain voters and four million leave voters. Defeating Labour at the next election requires driving a wedge between these two sections of its social base.

Labour needs to anchor its position in social democratic ideas if it is to sustain itself against the tidal wave of liberal and reactionary attacks. Political struggle in the UK today is a contest between three broad trends – reactionary, liberal and social democratic. Historically, these have been squeezed by the corset of the British constitution into two major parties, on one side, a coalition of reactionaries and liberals and on the other, of liberals and social democrats.

The UK’s conservative politics has been severely disrupted, first in 2015 by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, and then in 2016 by the EU referendum. Out of this crisis we can perceive three shadow ‘parties’, which we will call ‘Ultra-Leave’, ‘Remain-Democrats’ and ‘Ultra-Remain’. These haven’t replaced the major parties, but reflect a growing polarisation and division as demonstrated by the Brexit party and Change UK.

James Ball (New European, 16 May 2019) identifies these ‘parties’ from opinion polling data collected before the recent European elections. He points to Pro-Brexit parties with total support of 47% and the Pro-Remain parties predicted at 38%. The Labour Party is placed in the middle with 16% between the two extremes. Labour’s position arises from its democratic values and the central importance of the working class, one deeply divided over the EU. This is a dangerous situation which presents possibilities for the far right to consolidate its base among working people.

The European election results were close to Ball’s prediction with the Ultra-Leave parties winning 44% and the Ultra-Remain parties securing nearly 41% with Labour taking 14%.  In Northern Ireland and Scotland the pro-remain parties confirmed the vote from 2016. In Wales, pro-remain Plaid secured an increase in its votes. Peterborough presents a different picture, more like a general election, than this slightly unreal substitute ‘referendum’ on the EU.

Remain-Democrats

In 1975, Tony Benn told his constituents, before the referendum on the Common Market, that “The whole nation, and all political parties, is divided on the Common Market question. We must respect the sincerity of those who take a different view from our own. We should all accept the verdict of the British people whatever it is, and I shall certainly do so”. (The Spectator, 18 January 1975) This is a good starting point. ‘Remain-Democrats’ support remaining in the EU, but have accepted the democratic mandate given by voters in 2016. They recognise Remain was in the minority, but continue both to exercise their right to criticise the rampant corruption in the Referendum and to explain the case for remain, while respecting the majority mandate to leave. Labour’s Brexit is a policy which seeks to address the contradiction of a post-Referendum, divided working class.

Although, Remain-Democrats defend the democratic mandate to leave the EU, this includes neither leaving the single market nor the customs union, because the question put in the 2016 referendum, as defined in law (i.e. leave or remain) did not include these two options.

Remain-Democrats should recognise that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain, as did Gibraltar. Democrats and internationalists must recognise their right to remain and oppose any agreement that does not respect and secure their right to self-determination. Crucially, this is a republican not a Unionist interpretation of the 2016 referendum.

Remain-Democrats can never back any imposed settlement on the people. A deal negotiated by any government must secure a majority in parliament and be endorsed by the people through a ratification referendum. Such a public vote asserts the democratic accountability of the government to the people by emphasising their right to decide on whether the 2016 mandate has been carried out or not.

Importantly, a ratification referendum is not a second referendum; i.e. one seeking to reverse or overturn the 2016 result. Therefore, the ballot paper would not contain any option to remain. It simply focuses on the actual proposal on offer from the government. If the deal is rejected, then next step is to seek to negotiate an alternative, which might involve, for example, a general election. Such a referendum is equivalent to trade unions putting a proposed settlement of a pay dispute back to members for ratification.

Corbyn and Labour Brexit

The Corbyn Labour Party pitched its tent on ‘Remain-Democrat’ terrain as the party of remain which accepts the 2016 result. Labour campaigned for remain in 2016 and told voters in June 2017 that it would respect the result and carry it out. On the basis of that election result it successfully blocked the Tory version of Brexit. So far General Corbyn has been able to keep his parliamentary troops relatively united, rebuffing a Tory Brexit and pushing them to dump May. His greatest successes include the 2017 general election result, which wrecked May’s parliamentary majority, three defeats of the Tory Withdrawal Agreement and, finally, derailing the decision to leave on the 29 March, which finished May. Consequently, Corbyn can take the lion’s share of the plaudits for enabling the people to vote in the May 23 European election. However, this European election has left the parliamentary arithmetic unaffected.

There are three democratic omissions from Labour’s Brexit. First, Labour must adopt the democratic demand for a ratification referendum while rejecting a second, or repeat referendum, with any remain question on the ballot paper. Second, Labour should clarify their support for England and Wales leaving the EU, but remaining in the single market and customs union. Third, Labour should support the democratic right of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

A ratification referendum is Labour’s democratic answer to reactionaries in the Tory and Brexit parties flaunting their fake democratic credentials. It is Labour’s democratic answer to the liberals who have no respect for the working class, no policy for austerity and simply support British capital remaining in the EU.

The weakness of Corbyn’s position is not as Paul Mason (Guardian, 27 May 2019) and the liberals argue, that he doesn’t back a second-remain referendum. Corbyn is under massive pressure from the national press to do so. However were he to support it then the media would soon pivot to attack Labour for betraying its leave voters. Corbyn is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Labour must make it absolutely clear its opposition to a ‘second-remain’ referendum: the time for a second remain referendum is when the working class has shifted decisively in favour of remain. This has not yet happened. Opting for a second-remain referendum would be highly controversial, highly divisive and a dangerous gamble. And it will not get through the present parliament. It would weaken the opposition to no-deal, divide the Labour opposition and benefit the Tories.

Therefore, the only practical outcome of a Labour left demand for a second-remain referendum will be to help Tom Watson and the liberal wing of the Labour Party to overthrow Corbyn. This Ultra-Remain demand will, by undermining Corbyn, enable Tory Brexit to win. This is what Paul Mason has done by adopting this demand. The call for a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper and the allegations that Labour under Corbyn is an institutionally anti-Semitic party, are the two prongs of the liberal attack on social democracy.

Defeating no-deal

The choice is now stark between no-deal (WTO) or another extension beyond 31 October. First, Labour will make the democratic case that the new Tory Prime Minister should face a general election. This is Labour’s current policy. This must not be a token parliamentary effort for a vote of no confidence, but a country-wide campaign linking Tory Brexit with austerity: Corbyn sheds his parliamentary persona and gets back on the road as ‘Corbyn the campaigner’. Of course, the Tories and the DUP will the votes to block a general election.

Second, Labour will then resume its central role in defeating any Tory Brexit, including a no-deal Brexit, in Westminster. Corbyn should reject the imposition of no-deal, with special reference to Scotland and Northern Ireland which voted remain. He should warn the Tories that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the next Labour government will facilitate a border poll in Northern Ireland and a second independence referendum (IndyRef2) in Scotland.

Third, Labour must not rely on parliament to block no-deal (on World Trade Organisation terms). The demand for a ratification referendum is a key demand. This is essentially a democratic backstop and a principled means of preventing a no-deal Brexit before 31 October. The question should ask “Do you support or oppose a no-deal Brexit? Yes or no?”

Fourth, Labour must clearly reject the call for a second-remain referendum which will divert the battle against no-deal into a dead-end, undermining Labour’s strategic position, fatally weakening Corbyn, further dividing the working class and strengthening the Labour right, the Tory right, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. If a majority vote against no-deal in a referendum, then there will have to be an extension, perhaps for a general election and a new round of negotiations.

Philip Stephens (Financial Times, 31 May 2019) believes an extension is the most likely scenario. He says, “So the Brexit deadline most likely will be extended again. And then what? Well a sizeable slice of the UK population will remain noisily unhappy. They will accuse all and sundry of subverting democracy. But the noisier they become and the further we travel from 2016, the more eccentric Brexit will seem to a wider audience”. He concludes that, “barring a referendum, doing nothing looks more and more like the default option. Better to leave the fight unsettled and talk about something else than to reopen constantly the old wounds. Perhaps limbo is not such a terrible place when the alternative is Brexit hell”.

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Studied Ambiguity

Carla Roberts (Weekly Worker 1255 13 June 2019) reports on the Peterborough election which highlighted the crisis in the Labour Party over the Brexit referendum, anti-Semitism and trigger ballots to recall Labour MPs. She describes Corbyn’s policy on the referendum as “studied ambiguity” which the Labour Party Marxists have also signed up for.

Carla says “from a limited electoral perspective Corbyn’s position still makes a lot of sense. Coming out firmly on either side of the binary debate will do nothing to increase Labour’s chance in the ballot box”. She adds that “Corbyn quite rightly refuses to pick a side, he has also not attempted to break out of his false ‘in or out’ dichotomy”.

Corbyn has taken sides. He has refused to side with the Ultra-Leave or Ultra-Remain, but has taken his stance as a ‘Remain-Democrat’. He is somebody who campaigned to remain but accepted the decision to leave. This is what the Labour Party did in 2016 and in the 2017 election manifesto. He has tried to find a version of leave which protects working class interests.

This is an honourable approach to take. More than this, it is political good sense not least because of the divisions in the working class, the Labour Party and amongst Labour voters. My criticism is not about compromise, but that he has not found the right kind of compromise. He should have looked more carefully at the democratic mandate from 2016 and married this with the interests of the working class.

However this is not simply about Corbyn. It is Labour policy that should be examined not least because Corbyn doesn’t stray far from it. Labour’s 2018 Brexit resolution includes the following: “Conference accepts that the public voted to leave the EU” and that “Conference believes we need a relationship with the EU that guarantees full participation in the Single Market”.

“Conference also believes a no-deal Brexit should be rejected as a viable option and calls upon Labour MPs to vigorously oppose any attempt by this Government to deliver a no-deal outcome”. A number of Labour MPs did not act in line with this policy recently in parliament. They should be called to account and face a trigger ballot.

Along with the Zionist inspired ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, the key issue to oust Corbyn and defeat the socialist movement is the liberal demand for a second-referendum with a remain question. This is being pressed by Alistair Campbell, Tom Watson, Emily Thornberry, Paul Mason, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Another Europe etc.

This Ultra-Remain attack cannot be defeated or even beaten back without deploying the weapon of working class democratic demands. The Labour Party conference, influenced by working people through their trade unions, spells out the answer. “Conference notes that when trade unions have a mandate to negotiate a deal for their members, the final deal is accepted or rejected by the membership”. It adds that if the government gets a deal which benefits working people “they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public”.

Trade unions enable working people to vote to ratify or reject negotiated deals. The People voted ‘Out’ say the Ultra Leavers (Farage, Rees Mogg etc ) but ‘Out’ only means ‘Out’ when the people (i.e. a majority) decide what ‘Out’ means by voting on it. We have to be able to debate and vote on the actual deal we have been offered, not the vague fantasy Brexit from 2016.

Carla praises Corbyn for refusing to “pick a side” between Ultra Leave and Ultra Remain, but criticises him for not attempting to break out of this false ‘in or out’ dichotomy”. I blame the Labour Party Marxists who have done nothing to help Corbyn break out of this trap. The democratic trade union practice of ratification replaces “this false ‘in or out’ dichotomy” with democratic dichotomy between ‘yes or no’.

Carla and the LPM have offered us a false choice between the Stalinist opposition to the working class having the right to vote in a referendum and the liberal demand for a second referendum slogan to overturn the first masquerading as democracy. Neither Stalinism nor liberalism has the answer to the democratic problem posed by the 2016 referendum.

The 2018 Labour conference never called for a second referendum with a remain question. The resolution said “Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election”.

It adds that “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”. There is no reason for “studied ambiguity” on this. A public vote is no more than a ratification referendum. It was Keir Starmer and the right wing of the Labour Party who have tried to turn “remaining on the table” into a ‘remain question’.

The Labour Party Marxist policy, whether it is Stalinist opposition to the working class having the right to ratify, or merely “studied ambiguity” over diffent kinds of referendum helps the right wing of the Tories, the right wing of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who are aided and abetted by socialists like Paul Mason and Another Europe who are acting as their ‘useful idiots’.

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EU elections as a confirmatory referendum

The European elections are more or less irrelevant and a distraction from the battle against Tory Brexit. They are of course useful to assess the state of public opinion but not for deciding strategy and tactics. Paul Mason saw the results and drew the wrong conclusions. He argues that Labour must shift further to the right to embrace the liberal position of “remain and reform and the call for a second referendum on any deal” (Guardian 27 May 2019)

He thinks that “Given the scale of the reversal, it looks likely that the Labour right will launch a new leadership challenge against Corbyn. They may wait until after the Peterborough by election and the announcement of a formal probe into alleged anti-Semitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission”.

Yet getting smashed in an election that nobody expected, and with a low turnout, suggests people understand reality. It was an opportunity for Faragean grandstanding, not least in offering to join the next EU negotiating team whilst saying there is nothing to negotiate. Paul Mason says “Labour supporters have to look reality in the face” before he himself fails to do so.

The Corbyn Labour Party has rightly pitched its tent on the ‘Remain-Democrat’ hill as the party of remain which accepts the 2016 result. On this little hillock it subsequently constructed a small fort from which to resist Tory Brexit. These fortifications are not strong enough and will eventually be overrun.

However so far General Corbyn has been able to keep his parliamentary army relatively united to beat off Tory Brexit and push the Tories to dump May. His greatest hits have included the 2017 general election that wrecked May’s parliamentary majority, then three defeats of the Tory Withdrawal Agreement and finally halting the decision to leave on the 29 March. Corbyn can take the lion’s share of the congratulations for enabling the people to vote in the May 23 European election.

His leadership of Labour’s divided party allowed the people to have this confirmatory referendum. Not surprisingly an angry public confirmed they did not like it. They decamped on mass to the rival protest parties for Ultra Brexit or Ultra Remain often encouraged by Labour members.

Still this is no time to race round like Corporal Jones shouting “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring”. But panic ran away with Emile Thornbury and Paul Mason. All the mainstream media cheered and demanded that Corbyn abandon his little fort on the hill and join them in the valley of death. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer but it is time to stick to the Remain-Democrat position for the next stage of the battle with a tweak or two.

Labour had eight million remain voters and four million leavers in 2017. If you want to stop Corbyn winning the next election then you must drive a wedge between these two sets of voters. This is exactly what the Ultra-Remainers are trying to do, including many socialists such as Paul Mason, Another Europe and the AWL acting as the ‘useful idiots’ for the liberals who all want a remain-referendum and a “reformed” (sic) EU.

Corbyn’s confirmatory EU referendum confirmed what we already knew. Not much has changed since 2016. Unlike the last time nobody agreed to carry out the ‘will of the people’. Westminster will continue with the same dead-locked parliament as before, with a new Tory PM. None of those new European MEPs will be in the Commons where the next battle will take place in September.

The one most important lesson from this confirmatory referendum is that up to two million EU citizens were again denied a vote. History was repeating itself. If the Ultra-Remainers were serious they would be calling this out. The result should be declared illegal.

All democrats should recognise this was gerrymandered by incompetence, duplicity and inefficiency. By making the democratic case against this ‘referendum’ we remind everybody about the deliberate exclusion of EU residents from the last one and which created such a mess.

The Guardian reports that Corbyn has shifted a little. He says “Labour will support a second referendum on any Brexit deal”. We have not had a first referendum on any Brexit deal never mind a second one! But at least this goes beyond holding a referendum only on a ‘bad’ deal. He should remember Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in 2016.

Corbyn says “Labour’s preference would be for a general election but any Brexit deal has to be put to a public vote”. (Guardian 28 May 2019). I agree with that. If he doesn’t go beyond ratification then he is still on his little hillock in his small fort and not with Paul Mason in the valley of death with the rest of the light brigade.

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European elections and opposing Tory Brexit

On Thursday 23 May we are invited to vote in an election that was never going to happen. It is a special European election when the normal rules don’t apply. As far as England (and Wales) is concerned I will be voting Labour. Northern Ireland and Scotland are different cases. You can’t vote Labour in Northern Ireland. I would not support voting Labour in Scotland since the party has done nothing to support Scotland’s right to remain.

Yesterday I went to Vauxhall to canvass with Labour Party members. Jeremy Corbyn, Emile Thornberry and Richard Burgin turned up. So I was able to talk to them and with the Labour leader about a ratification referendum. I emphasised the important distinction between ratification and repeat-remain (or multiple-choice) referendum. The democratic case for the former and need to oppose the latter got a fair hearing.

As a republican I don’t normally vote for Her Majesty’s Labour Party which is institutionally loyal to the constitutional monarchy and the British union. It has produced Labour governments responsible for the Iraq war, support for NATO and Trident and continuing Thatcher’s neo-liberal assault on the working class etc. So this is no auto-Labourism where you vote Labour every election out of routine, or from ‘proletarian’ dogma, or because you are a loyal member of the Party.

Jonathan Freedland says “If you don’t vote Labour on Thursday you are not abandoning the party for ever; you are not even committing yourself to voting the same way at the next Westminster election. That will be a different contest. Each election is about the decision in front of you at the moment”. (Guardian 18 May 2019) I agree with this but draw the opposite conclusion.

In this election Freedland wants Labour members to back any Remain party. The anti-Corbyn Labour MP Margaret Hodge urged something similar. Tory grandee, Michael Heseltine, is going to vote Liberal Democrat this time. So in the game of Brexit musical chairs I would urge working class people in England and Wales to vote Labour as the best means to finish off Tory Brexit and oppose the Brexit party but from a republican socialist perspective.

Federal Republic

A European Federal Republic would be a most radical extension of popular sovereignty and democracy. It would empower people across Europe and strengthen the political influence of the European working class. A pan-European democracy would be better able to challenge the corporate free market with a social republic.

The UK, like the EU, is not a democratic republic. A federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland would be a democratic step forward or advance on the current state. A radical extension of popular sovereignty and democracy requires a voluntary unity between nations and hence the right of nations to self determination through a referendum.

A federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales requires the abolition of the British Union, the sovereignty of the Crown-In-Parliament and a parliament for England based on popular sovereignty. It does not prevent any nation becoming a democratic republic by exercising its right to self determination. On the contrary republicans in the UK support the right of people in each nation to take their own road to a democratic republic.

A European federal republic which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland is a democratic alternative to the United Kingdom’s antiquated and broken liberal state and to the European Union liberal semi-state. It makes the call for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales obsolete and unnecessary.

The 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 EU referendum provide concrete evidence of from which to estimate the state of public opinion. The suspension or break down of the Good Friday agreement adds to the picture. This indicates that Scotland and Ireland are heading towards a republican future. England is now the largest nation in the EU without its own parliament or written constitution.

Republican Exit

Republicans oppose the EU and the UK on democratic grounds. The British Crown and the European Commission have too much unaccountable and unelected power. The EU should be opposed in a similar way and for similar reasons to opposition to constitutional monarchies like the UK and Spain, from a democratic republican position. Hence republicans support the Catalan republic and the right of the Catalan people to self determination.

Republicans oppose British Exit or ‘Brexit’ because only England and Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. As democrats we reject every version of Brexit which forces Northern Ireland and Scotland to leave the EU, the single market and customs union against their democratic will. British unionists ignore the votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland in favour of imposing an All-UK exit. This is a heinous crime against democracy and encourages nationalism.

A ‘Republican Exit’ is a based on the democratic mandates given by the people in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It recognises the sovereignty of the nations in the UK state and their rights as nations to self determination. A ‘Republican Exit’ demands that any proposed settlement negotiated between the EU and Her Majesty’s Government must be returned to the sovereign people to be approved or rejected in a ratification referendum.

Remain-Democrats

The current political paralysis goes back to the 2016 EU referendum. It realigned UK politics into three camps – Ultra-Leave, Remain-Democrat and Ultra-Remain. ‘Remain-Democrats’ are those who in 2016 supported remaining in the EU but recognise that a majority voted to leave and this should be acted on.

The Labour Party leadership has positioned itself as the party of Remain-Democrats. It seeks the middle or centre between Ultra-Leave and Ultra-Remain. Both Sinn Fein and the SNP should be identified as Remain-Democrats since they are defending the democratic right of Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

James Ball examines the polling data. (New European 16 May 2019). He divides the results into three camps. On the right are the “Pro-Brexit parties” with total support of 47%. This breaks down into the Brexit Party 34%, Tories 10% and UKIP 3%. On the opposite side are “Anti-Brexit” with 38%. This breaks down into Liberal Democrats 15%, Greens 11%, Change UK 5% and Others 7% which probably refers to the SNP and Plaid.

Voting projections suggest the Brexit Party will have 32 seats and the Tories 4. Labour will hold 12 seats. Then the Liberal Democrats will hold 10 and the Greens 8 with the SNP 3 and Plaid 1.Chukka and Co will win 0. (Times 22 May 2019).

In the centre of this poll is the Labour Party with 16% as the pivot between “Pro-Brexit parties” and “Pro-Remain” parties. The centre ground is an uncomfortable place to occupy. But for socialists the ‘Remain-Democrat’ position is not just about accepting the majority vote. It recognises the importance of the working class, deeply divided over the EU. That is a dangerous situation which opens up possibilities for the extreme right to build a larger base among working people. No socialist or trade unionist can ignore this.

Corbyn’s Labour is trying against the odds to find and hold the centre ground in a party whose divisions reflect a divided working class. Both the Brexit and Remain press have laid siege to Labour’s confusion. Jonathan Friedland says “There’s Tom Watson who says “We are a Remain and Reform party”. But there is also Barry Gardiner who says Labour is not a remain party now”. (Guardian 18 May 2019)

Republicans in England and Wales, who recognise the importance of the working class, should locate their case in the ‘Remain-Democrat’ camp which Corbyn’s Labour is occupying. This is ‘critical support’ whilst raising the rights of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU and the democratic right to ratify any settlement whether from a Tory or Labour government.

Ultra-Remain

Ultra-Remain does not accept the 2016 referendum and aims to reverse the decision by means of a second-remain referendum. The liberals back a second referendum to overthrow the 2016 result. It is a stupid idea and dangerous too. The battle for working class opinion has to be won before such a referendum could be considered.

Labour peer, Andrew Adonis, writes about “Decoding Double Speak”. He identifies examples of Orwellian newspeak. He says “the funniest is the second referendum which became a Peoples Vote, then a public vote and is now a ‘confirmatory vote’ with an option to remain – except the last five words sometimes have to be construed because they are not always stated”.(New European 16 May 2019)

A ratification referendum is another term for a confirmatory referendum without an option to remain. Including “an option to remain” on the ballot paper turns it into a second or repeat referendum. Liberals and reactionaries have joined forces to sow confusion. Corbyn should be supporting a ratification referendum and opposing a second-remain referendum.

Corbyn and the fight against Tory Brexit

There are many options or policies towards the EU from No Deal, Tory Brexit, Labour Brexit, Republican exit and Remain. The only one that confronts us is Tory Brexit. The others are theoretical or politically impossible. At present there is only one deal facing parliament and the people – the Tory ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ negotiated by the May government – a zombie deal that has refused to die.

The zombie deal is highly toxic in poisoning the body politic. As it drags on it gives every encouragement to reactionary forces to grow fuelled by the impossibility of dealing with austerity and poverty. Some people may think ‘Brexit’ and poverty are two separate questions facing the people. But politics and economics are connected as Tory Brexit is to Tory austerity.

Fighting and defeating Tory Brexit is the spearhead against Tory austerity not least in making an early general election necessary. The opposition to Tory Brexit in parliament led by Corbyn’s Labour not the Ultra-Remain MP’s and parties. They have at every stage sought to undermine Corbyn Labour with the slogan of a second referendum and thus undermine the fight against Tory austerity.

Corbyn’s victories

The main stream media have kept up a constant war against Corbyn, slandering him as an anti-Semite and claiming he is confused (does not know what is doing) and dishonest (a secret Brexit supporter). He can be criticised for being less than robust in making his positions crystal clear not least in rebutting false claims about anti-Semitism and on the ratification referendum question.

Corbyn Labour, despite accepting the 2016 result, has so far torpedoed Tory Brexit. The 2017 general election was a massive blow against it. May wanted an even bigger majority to deliver it and lost her majority. Despite the many knives sticking out of his back from his own MPs, Cobyn won a remarkable victory. He has kept his ship afloat with a ‘Labour Brexit’ which may yet be a movable feast.

May lost her majority and became dependent on the DUP. Corbyn’s ‘victory’ made the Irish question an impossible stumbling block. His centrist coalition handed out three parliamentary defeats to Tory Brexit. The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. This was an unmovable deadline which the Tories swore to deliver. The UK is still in the EU and now holding elections that were never going to happen.

Corbyn has to get credit because he was able to keep his parliamentary Labour Party sufficiently united to be the main force blocking May’s deal. So while the Ultra-Remain and Ultra-Leave have continued to savage Corbyn and undermine him at every step, it is his Labour Party that means we are still in the EU months after we were due to leave. Yet at some point Corbyn’s line will run its course and become a block on opposition to Brexit. The ‘weapon’ of Labour Brexit will be overtaken by events.

So in conclusion I support Labour in this European election in England and Wales for a republican perspective. If I lived in Northern Ireland I would be tempted to support Sinn Fein. I say “tempted” because I do not know the situation on the ground. In Scotland republicans should be looking for a party that fought for Scotland to Remain in the EU and supported a ratification referendum whether held by the UK government or called by the Scottish parliament.

22 May 2019

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Civil War or Civil Peace

Recently I wrote to Labour MP Helen Hayes, urging her to support a ratification referendum on May’s Withdrawal deal (or even a May-Labour version). This is a democratic right which enables both leave and remain supporters to reject (or support) the Tory deal.

I opposed including a remain question saying it “would be dangerously divisive to try at this time to reverse the 2016 vote and would be a gift to the Tories and the extreme right in many working class communities suffering from Tory austerity”.

My only qualification is that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and should not be forced to leave the EU against their will. If they are, they should fight for a referendum on leaving the UK.

Helen Hayes replied that “I continue to hold the view that in any future referendum remain must be an option on the ballot paper. I have consistently held this view”. Many Labour MPs, Tiggers, Greens and Liberal Democrats support this.

The Brexit crisis has polarised people. Many working class Leavers now support a Full Total Brexit. A referendum which offers working class Leave supporters a choice to vote for May’s deal OR Remain will be seen as betrayal and cause outrage. Surely they will boycott it and take to the streets?

In England and Wales a “May Deal or Remain” referendum plays into the hands of the Tory right and the neo-fascists. They will think Christmas has come early, whilst socialists will remember that liberals have always been the midwives of authoritarianism and fascism.

We are at a fork in the road on the referendum question. One sign says “Civil Peace” and the other says “Civil War”. The democratic demand for ratification is the road towards peace. A Remain ballot risks civil war.

Rex Dunn’s article in Weekly Worker (No 1246 11 April 2019) highlights the war path. He says “Hatred and intolerance is on the rise. This is the ‘ugly face of Brexit’ as the pro-Brexit demonstration on March 29 clearly showed”. He continues “if there is a general election – or another referendum – there could well be fighting in the streets. If that happens, of course, this would not be the first time that there would be civil violence in Britain”.

Rex says “today if fighting does break out in the coming period, it will be between pro-‘remain’ and pro-Brexit supporters: a civil war without class struggle, because it crosses class lines”. Boycotting referenda is not like boycotting civil war.

All civil wars in capitalist society involve struggle between classes which ‘cross class lines’. In his discussion of the national question, Lenin rejected any notions of pure class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in which one side lines up “for capitalism” and the other “for socialism”. Revolution and civil war is a messy business.

Labour MP Helen Hayes has naively chosen the path of civil war although there is as yet no majority in parliament to issue the call to arms. Liberals don’t care. They have a stick to beat ‘peacenik’ Corbyn, who seems reluctant to back a second-remain ballot. He should rule it out and not beat about the bush.

The Corbyn ‘peace plan’ without the democratic right to ratify echoes Stalinist bureaucratic politics that fears and avoids the democratic verdict of the working class. It would be disastrous if Labour makes a Brexit peace deal with the Tories. It is even more dangerous if working people are denied the right to ratify or reject it.

The working class needs its own independent democratic policy rather than simply following the reactionaries and liberals. This includes following the path of civil peace not civil war and hence fighting for a ratification referendum and rejecting a dangerous attempt to MP’s like Helen Hayes to include a remain question.

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