Democratic Exit

It brings great satisfaction to see Tory Brexit hit the Irish buffers. Those reactionaries who aimed to break up the EU will surely bring about the end of the British Union. Try as they might, the Tories have not managed to square the Unionist circle. It is surely an irony of history that the British border with the EU is in Ireland and this will finally open the way to a united Ireland.

This week polls show that 77% of English Tory members would rather see Scottish independence than abandon Brexit. The same proportion would rather abandon the Irish peace process too. Ireland is in the front line not least because the Democratic Unionist Party has May by the proverbials. Scotland has been in low profile compared to Ireland. But anytime soon the SNP will take up cudgels.

The bigger picture is in England in the battle between the Anglo-British and Anglo-Europeans, divided between liberals and democrats. The Anglo-British reactionaries and ultra lefts are at pains to deny any democratic trend. They direct their fire against the liberals for working hand in glove with big business.

Our job is to uncover and highlight a democratic programme which starts from now and points to the future. A series of democratic demands – for a democratic exit, for a ratification referendum and for a democratic England in a democratic Europe – must be examined.

The Labour conference showed the political distinction between ‘remainer-liberals’ who want a second-repeat referendum and those like Corbyn, McDonell and McClusky who want a general election but may back the democratic demand for a ratification referendum. But what about a democratic exit?

In 2016 Corbyn accepted the majority vote to leave the EU. He supported remain but accepted the majority vote to leave. The reality is that the working class split down the middle. This is dangerous for the Labour Party and the working class movement. Socialists have to overcome that division not make it worse. This is a serious problem for Labour and a trap for Corbyn which so far he has side stepped.

Corbyn was quick to call for triggering Article 50. Liberal-remain Labour MPs attacked him for being weak and claiming he was a ‘secret’ leaver who opportunistically called for remain. Corbyn has made no case that leaving the EU is in the interests of the working class. Rather he says he has accepted the majority vote but wants the best deal for jobs and social protections.

Corbyn has not argued that leaving the EU is a step to socialism. He has not claimed there are any benefits for leaving the EU nor does he look forward to the bright future after we leave. His case is that we should respect a democratic vote. The best argument for the democratic approach is about finding the way to overcome a divided working class. Labour has to relate to the leave voting section of the working class and not leave them to become voting fodder for the Tory right and the fascists.

However Corbyn’s democratic approach is not consistently democratic. There are three key points. First we must keep protesting at the denial of the right to vote to two or three million EU citizens living and paying taxes in the UK. Second we must emphasise that people voted to leave the EU not the single market or customs union. A democratic exit from the EU is consistent with remaining in the single market and customs union.

The final point concerns democratic rights to self determination. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Tories ignored it. The Anglo-British ignored it. The English chauvinists ignored it. The left followed them. The Tories stand for one nation, the British nation, and one vote, the British vote.

In recognising that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain we have a radically different view of what a democratic exit must mean. Greenland and Denmark are in the Kingdom of Demark. In 1985 Greenland left the EU and Denmark remained. They are still in one state. It is the Tories parking their tanks in Ireland and Scotland who are marching to the old tune ‘keep right on to the end of the road’. No surrender.

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