We can change Labour’s policy on Brexit

Mike Buckley

As Brexit morphs into a no deal nightmare, with soft Brexit and Theresa May’s deal dead, it has become the biggest threat to the working people of the UK since World War Two. This is no joke. The Tory right know full well that freed from European law and treaties, they would be able to rip up workers’ rights and turn the UK into a tax haven. The regulation that keeps us safe at home and work would be at risk, as would environmental protections at a time when saving our natural environment has never been more important. If no deal happens, the UK will be turned into a low-regulation experiment run by our own version of Trump whose willingness to lower taxes knows no bounds. The Tory fantasy of Thatcherism on steroids would finally become true.

In the face of such a threat, Labour must step up. This is not about representing Leavers or Remainers – all would be harmed, however they voted (or didn’t vote) in 2016. It’s about our duty as a party to prevent catastrophe for our country and our constituents. The question is how we achieve the change in policy necessary for this to happen. Our party is proudly democratic. Our way should not be the way of top-down command and control that the Tories follow. We can achieve more when we bring together all our talents, experience and hopes to create a more equal, safe and progressive country.

We’ve got history here. Last summer saw an unprecedented internal democratic exercise in the Labour Party when record numbers of CLPs passed the Labour for a Public Vote and Another Europe is Possible CLP motion, which called for the party to wholeheartedly back a second referendum. This process eventually produced a final text that kept a public vote as an option should Labour not be able to get its own version of Brexit delivered, and also called on the Tories to put any deal they had confidence in to the people. Despite some ambivalence over the meaning of the composite motion since, it’s clear that it has helped shape the Labour conversation on Brexit and provided a key impetus for our gradual policy shift. Conference motions can, evidently, be very effective indeed.

It is not enough, of course, for us to simply say we want to pass a pro-EU motion. We must be clear on what we want to achieve. Since 2018, the views of members have hardly changed. The majority view of Labour, Momentum and trade union members has been clear for many months – around 80% support a second referendum and our continued membership of the EU.

But the situation has changed. The withdrawal agreement is dead, and the only version of Brexit left is the worst-case scenario of no deal. The reality now is that it’s Remain or no deal. And the situation has now changed significantly in that it is the top priority for most people. In the 2017 election we were able to brush Brexit under the carpet, but there’s no chance of doing that now. Over a month on from the European elections polling still has Labour and the Lib Dems neck and neck because voters want a clear, unequivocal stand against Brexit.

Labour must pick a side with clarity and force. In terms of doing the right thing, it’s pretty clear which option we should pick. Backing a Public Vote and Remain wholeheartedly would also provide real electoral benefit, according to polling (see here and here). We need to use conference in September as an opportunity to get Labour unequivocally backing a public vote and Remain – and with our party membership being overwhelmingly pro-EU, we can. Labour for a Public VoteAnother Europe, Love Socialism Hate Brexit,  Open Labour and Labour for a Socialist Europe’s 2019 CLP motion calls for a clear policy of support for a new vote, and for Labour to back Remain in that new vote. The best thing you can do to help stop no deal and to win the case for Remain is to download our motion, get it passed in your CLP and sent to conference for debate.

We need to move now. Every CLP motion passed makes the point that Labour needs to back Remain as soon as possible. By September, if numbers are anything like last year’s, the strength of opinion will be deafening. By the autumn, the Article 50 deadline will be approaching and, in all likelihood, Prime Minister Johnson will make a play for no deal. Only Labour can stop it, and start to build for a better future. This is how.

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