Labour's Brexit Betrayal

by Councillor Kevin Hickson


Even by the standards of Brexit recent days have been strange. First we had Jeremy Corbyn's speech saying he wished to stay in 'a' Customs Union, then two former Prime Ministers - Tony Blair and John Major - waded in to say that we should remain in the European Union and, finally, we had May's speech.  Although balanced, detailed and technical it was still condemned by Labour Remainers such as Lord Mandelson.  For Labour's EU fanatics nothing short of betraying the wishes of the British people is acceptable.

Labour has a proud history of Euroscepticism, not just the hard left of the early 1980s but moderates including Clement Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell and Peter Shore. Today's representatives of that tradition include Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer.  Very much in a minority within the Parliamentary Labour Party they can legitimately claim to be closer to Labour voters.  For although Labour MPs and activists were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum, over a third of Labour voters and well over half of Labour seats voted to leave the EU.

Corbyn's dilemma is best understood in this context. He has always opposed the EEC/EU from the time of our accession in the 1970s through every subsequent integrationist measure.  Yet he has been forced by the weight of numbers to accept, first, leading the party in favour of remain during the referendum and, since, accepting Brexit in name only, culminating in his decision to stay in 'a' customs union which seems little different to the current arrangement in its fundamentals.

I was still an active member of the Labour Party during the referendum and therefore saw at first hand the attempts within the party to stifle any internal debate. It became clear to me that many within the modern day Labour Party do not like many of their own voters.  It was this attitude that led Gordon Brown to remark that Gillian Duffy was a bigot for holding certain views on immigration which were widely shared and reasonably expressed.

It is now commonplace on the liberal left to remark that people should not have been given a say in the first place, that the issues were too complex, that people were lied to and tricked in to voting leave. These apparently simple folk should never have been burdened with such an onerous responsibility of being asked to vote on EU membership.  Though having opposed the referendum they now want to have a second one because they disagreed with the result of the first one.  Referenda are ok it seems, as long as they give the desired result. 

If the first attitude of remainers has been one of contempt then the other has been fear. The predicted severe economic consequences of a leave vote have already been disproved.  Now the argument has moved on to the fear mongering over would happen to the economy the day after Brexit.  I have had people tell me that our trading system would completely dry up the day we leave the EU, that the entire City of London would close down and that vast impoverishment would ensue.  I can almost hear them saying that the sun will not rise in the morning once we leave the EU!  Everything in the news that is bad is blamed on Brexit and any good news occurs 'despite Brexit'.

Corbyn's latest policy will ensure that an independent UK will not be able to reach trading agreements with other countries and that tariffs on poorer countries seeking to trade with the UK will be maintained. Neither patriotic, nor progressive.  It is in effect a complete sell out on the will to take back control of trade.

The response of the fanatics within the party is to argue that acceptance of the Customs Union (or even 'a' customs union) does not go far enough, that we need to stay in the Single Market also, which means betraying the people in their wish to retake control of borders.

Finally, Corbyn's statement was followed by an interview in which he admitted that he had no Plan B. His Plan B was, he said, to keep negotiating for his Plan A.  However, his Plan A has little chance of success and Labour politicians such as Keir Starmer have demonstrated that they are not able to enter into tough negotiations with the EU.  The likes of Blair and Mandelson will argue that we should accept almost any price to stay in the EU, including things which we had previously opted out from.  Remember that Blair had wanted Britain to sign up to the single currency.  No doubt they see no dangers with a more integrated foreign and defence policy if that is the price for remaining a member.

Brexit does mean accepting the result of the referendum, and this means leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market so that we can take back control of money, laws, borders and trade. But it does not mean the economic liberalism of the Conservative Brexiteers.  Regaining sovereignty is essential for left and centre left policies of a new industrial strategy, regional policy, more extensive public ownership and immigration control to stop the downward pressure on wages.  Policies which are genuinely in the interests of the working class.

After Labour's Brexit Betrayal it is clear that there is only one party which represents the genuine interests of the working class, the SDP.

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