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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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