Hardly a day goes by without the ‘Brexit revolution’ taking some new turn. The plot to overthrow May was slapped down when she called the conspirators to her Chequers country palace. Next day in parliament she ruled out ‘no deal’ and pulled the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a third meaningless vote. Parliament has taken over. Yet her Zombie deal is very likely come back again.
During the debate a series of senior backbenchers highlighted a deep political crisis threatening the Tories. “What on earth has happened to our pragmatism, our self-restraint and our common sense?” asked Tory MP Nicholas Soames. “Like many others, I have found myself truly distraught at the painful, difficult and intractable position in which our country finds itself”. (Guardian Rafael Behr 26 March 2019)
Jeremy Corbyn told May – “The government’s approach to Brexit has now become a national embarrassment. Every step of the way along this process the government has refused to reach out, refused to listen and refused to find a consensus that can represent the views of the whole of the country, not just her own party.” (Guardian Rafael Behr 26 March 2019)
What is wrong with Corbyn Labour’s position? First is the immediate programme. He is not talking ‘democracy’ but about reaching out, finding consensus and listening. Labour has tried to find a middle ground between reactionary Leave and liberal Remain, calling for a customs union and remaining close to the single market. There is no democratic rationale for this.
A democratic programme is not about consensus but taking seriously the votes in Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain and England and Wales to leave the EU. Let us call this, the ‘Republic of 23 June’ and remember that England and Wales did not vote to leave the single market and customs union. Respecting this is consistent with the rights of all UK citizens to move freely around the EU.
Labour should have reinforced its position by making it clear that any settlement would be put to a ratification referendum. Any deal would not be imposed on the people. It is a democratic right to vote to approve whatever comes through. Labour must commit to that.
The one thing that Corbyn does have right is his continued opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement. Yet because of his adoption of ‘consensus’ he is vulnerable to being pushed and pulled to compromise. It is easier to oppose Mays deal on democratic grounds than a ‘consensus’ which has one foot in the Tory cess pit.
Then we have Labour’s tactics. The party has made the call for a general election its first demand and only later a peoples vote. If Labour’s tactics were correct he would be marching at the head of one million people demanding a general election. What other weapons does he have? Wait for the Tory coup? Move a vote of no confidence in May?
In an interview on BBC Radio 4 Today (25 March 2019) Deborah Matinson, from the ‘Britain Thinks’, explained that people are hostile to the idea of a general election. Only 13% thought it would help the Brexit debacle, 45% thought it will make it worse and 32% thought it will make no difference.
People blamed May for the mess but were “bemused” by Corbyn’s call for a general election. They thought a man of principle was now “playing politics” with a national disaster. This was not building up trust in Corbyn or Labour’s leadership. The offer of a ratification referendum is something which engenders trust because it implies Labour trusts working people with important decisions.
Then we have the failure to turn up and support the Peoples march. One million people were not marching for a general election but the right to vote. It is not ruled out by Labour’s own policy. Of course this campaign is being led by liberals to the right of Corbyn who want a Remain question on the ballot paper.
Corbyn needed to be brave enough to explain the distinction between ratification and a second remain referendum which prematurely tries to reverse the 2016 vote and could deepen divisions in the working class. By staying away he left the door open for his arch enemy, Tom Watson, to speak at the demo and offer to back May’s deal in exchange for a second referendum May Deal or Remain.
The crisis is deepening. Now the Leave section of the working class has been abandoned by its Brexit leaders, Johnson, Ress-Mogg, Davies etc who condemned May’s Agreement and are now going to support it. The sense of betrayal by their rotten millionaire leaders will make them angry. They too have a right to ratify. But a referendum on May’s deal versus remain simply cuts them out of the process and should be unacceptable to any democrat.
It is not necessary to revoke Article 50 but democracy and any alternative to May’s deal will require a long extension as offered by Germany. Labour should declare it is ready to fight the European elections and Corbyn should take his message to European working class.