Remain, Reform, Rebuild: the 3R strategy for Labour on Brexit
Labour will have to sort the Tory Brexit mess by committing to the 3R strategy says Manuel Cortes in appealing to left leave supporters to unite against the Brexiteers nationalist , deregulated neo-liberal future.
Brexit has been a Tory project long since before it had a name. The 2016 referendum on European Union (EU) membership was only ever intended by David Cameron as a staged political gimmick to outflank the Right in his own party and to stem the desertion to UKIP from it.
It was right of the Labour Party and most of the Trade Union movement to campaign to remain and reform the EU during the 2016 referendum. We lost our battle by a narrow margin, but the struggle continues. Now is no the time to cede defeat to the ‘Kipper’ world view and let the Tory Right claim victory over Europe.
I know some comrades amongst us still cling to the notion that the EU is a capitalist club so we must rid ourselves of it. I believe some Lexiteers took a traditional agitational propaganda position because they, like Cameron, never believed the Brexiteers would win the vote to leave. Old left positions became at best a bad abstentionist tactic in a fast-moving rightward drift. At worst they meant ideological principles were contorted to justify the anathema of voting with the Tories and UKIP for their dream. But comrades, conditions have changed, you can too!
My union fought for remain because we believed the referendum result would lead to another binary choice Single Market Capitalism or World Trade Organisation (WTO) Rule Capitalism. There was no a la carte socialist nirvana on the menu. Our original fear is the reality we now face. Tory Brexit’s direction of travel careers us towards the dominion of (WTO) rules, where the only rights privileged are those of business and the Boss Class to exploit without impunity. EU membership was never perfect but it does come with rights which help protect workers. The WTO has always been the preferred trading club of dictators.
So resisting the Tory post-Brexit reality of a neo-liberal, Atlanticist nirvana of unrestrained, deregulated, free-marketeering is now the correct strategy. The Tories are holding a UKIP loaded double-barrelled shotgun to our class’s head. I appeal to those on the left who voted with the Tories and UKIP in the referendum to hold their hands up, admit it was the wrong tactic and now join with the rest of us on the Left in ambition to reform our relationship with Europe.
But on March 29, 2019 the facts will be as follows:
• Britain will still be a capitalist country;
• We will still need to trade;
• If we simply leave the EU, we will trade under WTO rules;
• WTO rules mean tariffs and no state aid as the case of Boeing v Airbus demonstrates.
This is the stark reality, as Tory right-wingers and Kippers seize their moment to end the job Thatcher started. They want to negotiate new free-trade deals, particularly one with their soul mate Trump. These will resemble the defeated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on steroids. It’s incumbent on the Left to lead the opposition to chlorinated chickens in our shops and our NHS being taken over by private healthcare providers from the across the pond. Our resistance, will inspire fellow socialist parties across Europe to join our movement to reform and rebuild a Europe for the many. Let’s not forget that it was the mobilising power of the Left within the EU which put the nails in the TTIP coffin. It was our internationalist European movement that enabled us to stand together to defeat America’s might. Divided, TTIP would now rule the roost.
A transition period is no safe harbour. Rather it lands us in an undefined period of vassal statehood as we lose our right to any self-determination. It increases EU power over us and makes us their rule takers when currently we have a democratic voice. An eventual agreement which closely mirrors the European Economic Area (EEA), means the EU forever calling the shots. Our perpetual vassal status will be enshrined. Our ability to argue for reforming the EU, which Jeremy and Socialists have campaigned for, gone.
Let’s face it, Tories and Kippers hate the EU because it’s not as rabid a free-market institution as they would like. From workers rights to food standards its regulations get in the way of their foolish utopian Hayek paradise. They want out because they believe, with justification, that within it, they won’t get the deregulation, privatisation and abolition of workers and human rights they so badly crave. We must therefore do our utmost to stop them getting their warped wish.
So Labour now faces a huge political opportunity and an even greater class responsibility. The fate of Brexit is in our hands. The devastating consequences on working class life and jobs are just too huge. The 2016 referendum injected a toxicity into British public life which saw the right grow in confidence and an MP lose her life. Current death threats to prominent Labour, Liberal and even Tory Remainers shame all of us. We must resist this nasty nationalist turn and not go with its flow.
Labour must whip our MPs to vote down any Tory Brexit deal. This will in all certainty force a General Election. If we campaign on our Manifesto for the many, it will increase our chances of reforming and rebuilding our relationship with the EU. We must prepare for power knowing it will fall to a Corbyn-led government to clear up the Brexit mess as well as rebuilding our country after the Tories austerity programme has so badly broken it.
With Jeremy at the helm, we will stop workers in Britain being abused and exploited through a real statutory living wage of at least £10 an hour, sectoral collective bargaining and a tightly regulated labour market. Workers rights will be at the forefront of Labour’s greatest reforming agenda since 1945. We will also build a new economic settlement for the benefit of the 99%. We will have a government that will invest in infrastructure from our schools to our railways and from our hospitals to renewable energy.
Labour will ensure that its economic policies bring prosperity for all and dismantle the toxicity that is setting Britons against immigrants in what Andrew Adonis has neatly phrased Britain’s Trumpian moment. As Socialists we are Internationalists. We bring people together irrespective of their differences. We are in the business of demolishing borders rather than creating barriers. The free movement of people within the EEA is a gain we must continue to cherish and must hope to extend further afield.
In the age of global capital, if we don’t act together tax-dodgers and multinational corporations will always get the better of us. As the successful battle against TTIP showed, agitation across borders works. Our internationalism is the antidote to the World Bank’s globalisation impulse. Remaining but reforming and rebuilding our relationship with the EU by pushing for reforms which deliver a Europe for the many rather than pull-up the drawbridge is an offer only Corbyn’s Labour is capable of delivering.
Jeremy is seen by many in Europe as a beacon of hope. A Britain led by him can build a better continent and world. There is no need to become a vassal state or an adjunct of the US. We can aim for something far, far better. Remaining, reforming and rebuilding our relationship with the EU is the key to Labour delivering a Britain and a Europe for the many not the few.
Manuel Cortes is General Secretary of the Transport Salaried Staff Association