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.