Last week the slogan “No second referendum, yes to a ratification referendum” was highlighted when London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, called for a “second EU referendum”. He predicted May would bring back a “bad deal” or an even worse “no deal”. Who will ratify or reject this deal – the Crown-In-Parliament alone (‘Westminster’ as it is more popularly known) or the peoples of our “Precious Union”.
On BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Khan said “It’s really important that this is not a re-run of the referendum but the British public having a say for the first time on the outcome.” This might seem clear that Khan is for ratification not a repeat of 2016. But you would be wrong. “My point is this” he said, “Rather than having a bad deal or a no deal, let’s put that to the British public with the option of staying in the EU.” (Observer16 September 2018)
The EU referendum divided the country between the reactionaries and ultra lefts on one side and liberals and democrats on the opposite side. In Weekly Worker (Issues 1213 and 1214 ‘Crisis of Democracy’ 2 August 2018) I raised the slogan “No to a second referendum, Yes to a ratification referendum”. The demand for people’s ratification provides a democratic way forward for a divided working class.
The reactionaries and ultra lefts are against any further referendum on Europe. Theresa May has repeatedly stated her opposition. The ultras say the same for different reasons. They live in their own special bubble where high principles insulate them from recognising their coincidental alignment. This same blind spot saw the SWP and the Communist Party of Britain line up behind leaving the EU alongside the Tory right and UKIP.
On the opposite side are the liberals and democrats. The duplicitous liberals, like Sadiq Khan, whether left-Tories or right- Labour, serve the interests of the City and big business. Capital needs free trade, integrated supply chains and cheap workers which the EU supplies. The slogan of a ‘second referendum’ is a deliberately ambiguous slogan behind which liberals serve profit in the name of ‘jobs’.
The divisions within the working class over British exit can easily widen and deepen. The liberals don’t care about this but working class democrats do. Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, warned that another vote on EU membership could result in civil disobedience and social disruption. The hard right are ready for the ‘Great Betrayal’. A second referendum means feeding raw meat to the ravenous beast of Brexit.
The democratic demand for ratification is different. A recent survey of Labour members found “that 86% of members backed a referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations”. (Independent 24 September). The 2016 referendum enabled the working class to vote. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. This is the key to a democratic and revolutionary approach to the Brexit divide. Working class voters across the Union must have the right to ratify or reject the Tory Deal.
The Labour Party conference clarified the options. May, the Tories and Weekly Worker oppose another referendum. Blair, Alistair Cambell, Sadiq Khan and Chuka Umunna want a second remain referendum. McCluskey, McDonnell and Corbyn support a ratification referendum. Labour’s carefully constructed ambiguity was blown up when Keir Stammer declared, in an unscripted part of his conference speech, that remain in the EU question was not ruled out.
Left democrats (i.e. republicans) have a different perspective. The battle for European democracy recognises the strategic importance of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Having already voted to remain in the EU, why should they vote on that again? Their majority votes have been ignored by the Tories. If the English left had an ounce of internationalism and democratic commitment they would already have mobilised opposition to this violation of self determination.
The left in England is a victim of Anglo-British chauvinism. Their minds are messed up with a kind of reactionary English nationalism which supports Theresa May’s “Precious Union”. Any international socialist who values the unity of the working class must fight against a second repeat referendum and call time on the British Union. The answer to Brexit starts from a united Ireland and a Scottish republic in a democratic Europe.