Amid talk of detailed amendments, complicated procedures and rules made in 1604, the Remainer war against Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit is being waged more fiercely than ever. The last truce was particularly brief, coming to an end the moment that the Labour leader responded to Theresa May’s second meaningful vote defeat. In his speech, Corbyn made zero reference to a fresh EU referendum, despite this being party policy. Since then, he has suggested that he might vote to leave in a second public vote.
People’s Voters are screaming bloody murder, frustrated that Labour seems to be rowing back on its promise to campaign for another referendum. This complaint has merit, and no doubt a Remainer countermovement is underway. Perhaps more pertinent, though, is that the whole debate made me wonder: why do Lexiteers believe Labour’s alternative Brexit deal is more socialist than simply remaining in the EU?
The Labour Party has been pursuing a policy of ‘constructive ambiguity’ for a long time now. Polls have shown that up to 90% of members want a new referendum and only 17% of Momentum members oppose the idea. The bottom line is that most Labour members want a second referendum, but Corbyn and some of his most influential advisers do not. One of the chief reasons for this is belief in what as known as ‘Lexit’ (left-wing Brexit) – the idea that in order to build a truly socialist Britain, we must be outside of the EU.
The case against Lexit has been made in detail elsewhere, notably here by Paul Mason and here by IPPR’s Tom Kibasi. Essentially, the EU’s current rules already allow for sufficient state intervention, and the UK is such a powerful member that it is hard to imagine it would be the victim of a negative judgement by the European Commission.
Crucially, Lexiteers don’t seem to be acknowledging that by securing a softer deal than that agreed by May, future EU state aid rules really could become something to fear – a limit on a Labour government’s ability to invest in British manufacturing and renationalise key industries. At this point, we would be wedded to the EU’s law-making and law interpreting without the clout of being the powerful law influencer and law interpreter that we currently are.
Ultimately, we would be following the EU’s lead on state aid. They have made it clear that any agreement, even a simple free trade agreement, would require the UK to obey its state aid rules. These rules don’t currently present a problem for left-wing governments – but they could in the future. If they did, and we were no longer a member, those on the left who supported a deal over a second referendum with a Remain option would only have themselves to blame.