Brexit is a busted flush – Britain needs Labour

Manuel Cortes says extend Article 50 and call a special party conference to lead fight against Brexit and austerity

That the story of the 2016 European Union referendum continues to unfold with just a month left until the proposed March 29th leaving date says much about the unholy mess we find ourselves in. Parliament is paralysed and business caught in a tailspin over the actions of a reckless Tory Government which has offered zero leadership since the referendum almost three years ago.

Let’s face it, leaving the EU will do nothing to replace the anger felt in deindustrialised communities. That strife continues, propelled now by fear of what happens next; just ask car workers in Sunderland who have been told Nissan has abandoned plans to build a new model of one of its flagship vehicles on Wearside.

Sadly, this will not be the last such announcement brought about by Brexit. Be in no doubt, we are being taken to the cliff edge by a Tory party determined to wreck our economy. 

This should come as little surprise. After all, we got here thanks to a vainglorious Tory leader attempting to placate an ultra-nationalist faction on the right of his own party. David Cameron failed in this fool’s errand and his successor, Theresa May, has proven herself totally unequipped, personally and politically, to deal with the fallout.

Her gambit in holding a general election in the spring of 2017 was aimed at securing a larger parliamentary mandate for any kind of Brexit which could be cobbled together. From the moment her Commons majority was wiped out – by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn – Brexit was a busted flush.

The general election result called into question the veracity of a smear-laden referendum campaign which was won, don’t forget, by a whisker. The electorate in 2016 were given a binary choice and in effect voted for a concept of Leave which was nebulous at best and which no-one is saying can be delivered.

Since that time millions more have come onto the electoral roll and are rightly demanding they be given a stake in our shared future. This fact alone should lead us to question whether the referendum result remains valid. 

Reasons abound why we in the Labour and Trade Union Movement will long be thankful May failed to get her majority, not least because you can bet the house protecting workers’ rights would have been bottom of her wish list when it came to negotiations with the EU.

The facts speak for themselves. Not only does May not have a majority with which to deliver Brexit, but her party is hopelessly split. Their divisions have led to the European Research Group tail wagging a government on its last legs.

While this saga drags on communities continue to suffer real hardship and trauma as a result of austerity and a hostile environment programme. Tens of thousands of deaths have been linked to austerity, hundreds of thousands are homeless and, according to the United Nations, “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty”.

In Britain, in the 21st Century!

On top of that lives are being blighted because of the Tories’ narrow nationalist vision of our country. The Tory ultras dream of a free-trading Brexit Britain, a neoliberal privatised paradise which would shame even Margaret Thatcher.

Wave goodbye to any such thing as society, it would be every man and woman for themselves in which only the elites – the likes of Rees Mogg and Farage – would have nothing to lose.

This must be resisted with everything we have. We need a general election now and a Labour government so the country can begin to rebuild and renew after a long, barren decade of austerity; a series of hammer blows from the party of the rich against the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Labour has been united and clear about the importance of our shared future – that of the 52 as well as the 48 per cent in the Brexit vote. How different things would be under Labour: we would have a party governing For The Many and a government determined to speak for, and invest in, all of its citizens.

How badly we need the Labour grown-ups in the room speaking to the EU about future arrangements. They would do so as partners rather than adversaries.

As a wider movement we in the trade unions have always been guided by a strong democratic streak and we must lead from the front, both on Brexit and austerity. We exist only to protect workers, their families and our communities across our country. Brexit in any form will further hurt the millions of people we stand up for every single day. That’s why I have called for a special Labour Party conference.

Our party has been strategic and taken the Brexit process step by step. We want a general election because we understand the scale of change our country needs to get back on its feet and make sure no one is left behind. That’s why we have taken nothing off the table including holding a public vote on Brexit.

It may still be that we leave the EU on 29th March but it should not be with Labour’s blessing. We must build opposition to this alt-right project at every turn. That’s why I urge at the very least an extension to Article 50, a pause to reflect on what self-harm we are about to inflict upon ourselves.

Brexit is not a game for clowns like Boris Johnson to conjure up false notions of Old England besieged by the common enemy of straight bananas and a myriad of other (non-existent) regulations from Brussels bureaucrats.

All of this would be very funny if it were not so serious and economically damaging. Britain after Brexit will be more racist, less tolerant, less equal and more divided. This is what four decades of Tory infighting have brought us. It is a sorry pass.

We must fight to stop Tory Brexit with every sinew and confine the likes of Boris, Farage and Rees-Mogg to the circus so they can perform their clown act without causing harm to the rest of us!

Manuel Cortes

Manuel Cortes is the TSSA General Secretary.