In July 2019 the leaders of the major Trades Unions agreed that the Labour Party should agree to put any Brexit plan back to the people. Shortly afterwards Jeremy Corbyn wrote to all members adopting a modified version of this.
At the July meeting of the Broadland Constituency Labour Party I proposed a motion which would take that policy one step further, towards what I believe will be our final position. That motion was supported by those present with a two to one majority, although the meeting was inquorate, so will require ratification at a future meeting. This is what I said in proposing it.
I believe that we have wasted three years talking to ourselves inside the Party about this issue, refusing to act as a principled opposition, while the electorate look on puzzled and confused. While we try to keep the peace in our party, the voters are deserting us.
Brexit was a project of the extreme right of the Tory Party, designed to entrench predatory capitalism, and in 2016 Labour Party said that the best possible policy for the UK was to retain full voting membership of the EU, and use our considerable influence as the third largest member state to help move Europe to the left. We said that leaving the EU would make Britain poorer and weaker, it would harm jobs, security and welfare. All available evidence shows that this remains the view of the majority of Labour members and voters.
However, 37% of the electorate voted leave and we lost the referendum by a narrow margin. The Labour Party then adopted a position that respect for the “democratic vote” requires that we support something which we had previously opposed. This is not what we normally do. When we lose a general election we do not passively accept the “will of the people”, we continue to campaign for our principles, and work for another election to reverse the decision.
This has confused the electorate, who are not clear what we stand for, and suspect us of playing politics for party advantage. It has lost us votes to parties with clearer Brexit policies. In the Euro elections 45% of those who voted Labour in 2017 switched to explicitly remain parties.
The country and Parliament are deeply divided on this issue. Neither of the extreme positions – “no deal” or revoke can pass Parliament, and Jeremy’s policy is now the compromise one, which I have been campaigning for for 2 years, to put the question back to the people.
However, the Party position is still that in an election we would promise to seek to negotiate a better form of Brexit, and then put that to a referendum. There are two problems:
- Firstly, the EU has said repeatedly that there will be no new negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, and polls show that the majority of people in the UK believe them. A policy which suggests that we believe in the impossible will be difficult to sell to the voters.
- Secondly, if we believe that no form of Brexit is as good as remaining, we are in an absurd situation. We will negotiate a deal which we don’t believe is the best option. We will then hold a referendum in which we either support our own plan, contradicting our own view of the national interest, or we campaign against our own deal. Why would the EU consider talking to us on that basis? Why would the electorate consider voting for it? Why would activists be prepared to campaign for it?
If we are to win back those who have left us, and persuade the undecided, we need to be clear that we are standing on our principles. Brexit in any form will damage the country. Every possible form of Brexit is different from, and worse than, what the leave campaign promised, and any of the forms of Brexit now available. It is time to be clear where we stand, as a positive remain party in all circumstances. That is where I believe we will end up. The current fudge may keep an uneasy peace in the party, but it will lose us any election.