Remain and Rebel!

The following document was adopted by the National Committee of the Labour Representation Committee on June 29th. It should be noted that this was before the Labour Party National Executive shifted the Party's position, though we have been regrettably slow in publishing our change of attitude. It should also be noted, that, unlike the official Party view, we argue for the Party to support Remain and Rebel in all circumstances, including in the manifesto for the General Election, whenever it comes, and will be arguing for proposals to this effect at Party conference in September.

Remain and Rebel

It is increasingly clear that until the Brexit issue is resolved, there can be no return to "normal" politics".

* This is shown by both the European parliament elections and the Peterborough by-election: The European parliament election results showed graphically the division around Brexit, and that most voters want to see parties take a clear Remain or Leave position. Labour's constructive ambiguity and search for an alternative, better deal is seen as an unacceptable fudge, satisfying neither Leave or Remain supporters.

While it was obviously a magnificent victory in Peterborough, it shouldn't be ignored that this was achieved by getting an unprecedented number of activists (600-700) into the town on the day, and because the opposition was divided between the Tories and the Brexit Party. Taken together, their votes far outnumbered Labour's.

* There is no guarantee that the `protest vote' which went to the Green and Liberal democrats at the EU elections, will return to Labour. It might, but it certainly can't be assumed. If the intent of the protest vote was to show opposition to Labour's stand on Brexit, there is a real danger that it will desert us as long as the fudge exists.

* This `fence-sitting’ has not only led to a significant loss of voters to the Liberal Democrats and Greens (much greater than to the Brexit Party), but also to a great loss of enthusiasm (or worse) among many who joined the Party in support of Corbyn.

* Constructive ambiguity, respect for the result of the referendum and the search for a better deal may have had some purchase for a period, but is now seen as a millstone around the Party's neck, especially since the talks with the Tories, supposedly an attempt to find common ground, broke down (hardly a surprise).

* It is questionable whether a "soft Brexit/Labour deal" is achievable. It is certainly the case that EU negotiators are saying that no alternative to the May deal is available. Rather there was always a risk that sections of the working class and the Left believed that such a deal could have protected workers rights and undercut racism.

* Whatever the outcome of the Tory leadership election, there will be a strong push to leave by 31st October. The Tories know that unless they manage that, there will be even more defections to the Brexit Party. It is not impossible - though it shouldn't be assumed - that threats such as suspending parliament in order to get a no deal by that date will be carried out.

* Those contemplating leaving the EU without a deal, not only show how little concern they have for the disastrous effect this would have on the economy and jobs, but also how hollow is their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. While we, as socialists, support the re-unification of Ireland, “no dealers” in their rejection of the backstop – and with it, erection of a hard border – are willing to contemplate the revival of war in Ireland as merely a price to pay.

* Parliamentary arithmetic means anything can happen over Brexit, including the extreme drive for `no deal'. In this situation it is imperative that the Party bring extra-parliamentary action into the equation, with explicit support for protests, demonstrations etc. Disciplinary action also needs to be taken against those Labour MPs unwilling to vote to block no deal and indeed against those who failed to vote for the motion to give Parliament control of its own agenda.

* Parliamentary arithmetic also makes it likely that no solution will win a majority. It is by no means certain that there would be a majority against "no deal", given the votes of 8 Labour MPs (and the abstentions of several more). The threat of the Brexit Party could scare virtually all Tory MPs into supporting "no deal".

* We strongly oppose a “no deal” Brexit, and expect that no Labour MPs would vote with the Tories to allow this to happen.

* We oppose any version of a `national government to resolve Brexit’, a device to avoid a general election and the potential election of a Corbyn-led government. Regardless of the motivation of individual voters, the driving force behind `Leave' has been racism and deregulation (attacks on workers' rights, human rights and food and other standards). The vote to leave certainly emboldened racists. "Lexiteers" have never really been a force in the Leave campaign and some of them end up downplaying the dangers of racism.

* Not only does the current division mean that we can no longer fudge the issue, but the idea that we can instead talk about class politics is dangerous. Racism and attacks on workers’ rights ARE class issues. And we should also point out that if the Tories were to impose a no deal Brexit, the idea that discussion on Brexit would be over would be pie in the sky; we would be discussing as well as fighting against the disastrous impact of this for years – potentially generations – to come.

* As in the original (2016) referendum, if we are to come down off the fence and drop the fudge, there is only one principled side to come down on - remain. Socialists do not fudge the issues of racism and workers’ rights.

* However, that does not mean we are uncritical EUphiles, like the Liberal Democrats and the likes of Watson in the PLP (who often appear to be more concerned with using this issue among others to attack Corbyn, rather than serious discussion of the questions involved). Despite the exaggeration by some (such as the claim that the drive for the privatisation came from the EU rather than Britain's own neoliberals), we recognise that the EU is currently wedded to neoliberalism, and the need for socialists to fight it. The fact that the Leave campaign want to leave to allow even less regulation does not make us uncritical of the EU. On the contrary, we recognise the need to link up with socialists and trades unions across the EU and beyond to fight neoliberalism. That such a fight can succeed on national territory is the myth it always was. International capitalism will attempt to undermine any fight against neoliberalism whether we are in the EU or not.

* Hence, we should take up the call for "Remain and Rebel", rather than simply Remain. That means developing a programme, together with the left and trade unions across Europe to fight neo-liberalism, including the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties and Fourth Railway Directive (intended to “liberalise” rail services across the EU). It means opposing `Fortress Europe’, which has led to the horrendous scenes of migrants dying and being held in dire circumstances at Europe’s borders. It means arguing for free movement. It means supporting those fighting neo-liberalism across Europe, something which failed to happen when the Greek working class was under sustained attack. In response to those who argue that employers use migrant workers to undercut wages and strikes, we argue for campaigns to unionise migrant workers and combat racism.

* In response to claims that to argue for Remain is to ignore the referendum and fly in the face of that decision, we respond that, while this might have been a legitimate argument in the immediate aftermath, it cannot hold forever, particularly in the light of the way Brexit has become bogged down over the last 3 years. We also point out that there were many problems with the first referendum particularly the exclusion of EU nationals and 16-18-year olds – both of whom had a particular stake in its results. We would argue that both these groups must have a vote in any future referendum – or indeed in a general election. At the same time, sharpening our political and economic offer will allow us to reach out to communities where leave had a majority in the referendum. However, any reversal of the referendum decision will need democratic legitimacy, either by a further referendum or a General Election in which Labour makes support for remain and rebel a central aspect of our manifesto.

* In response to those who say that a reversal of the referendum decision or a rerun would give more grist to the mill of the far right, we can only argue that they have already been strengthened by the first decision, and little Englander nationalism will be further strengthened if we actually leave the EU. We will not defeat the far right by pandering to their prejudices.

* There are several routes by which the UK could remain in the EU - revocation of article 50 (probably followed by a general election); a general election in which it was clear where the winners stood; or a confirmatory vote. In the current situation, any of these is likely (or not) and there is no overwhelming preference for any one over the others. We would, however, point out that even if a referendum were to take place and the decision to leave be reversed, we would obviously still want to force a general election to get rid of the Tory government.

* It is not enough for the Party to come out for a confirmatory vote "whatever the deal". The Party has to commit itself to fighting for remain to be an option in such a referendum and to campaign for a vote for remain on the basis of `Remain and Rebel'. Similarly, `Remain and Rebel' has to be in the manifesto for a general election. And any campaign for Remain and Rebel this time round must and can be driven by the left – not by people like Alan Johnson who were part of the reason remain did not win last time round. Winning is not a forgone conclusion – but if we do not grasp this nettle the slow car crash McDonnell has predicted may well be.