Articles  •  Britain

Empty gestures as Corbyn and May inch closer to Brexit

22 January 2019

By KD Tait

Jeremy Corbyn’s response to Theresa May’s new plan for Brexit was perceptive enough: “nothing has changed”. He is right. Plan B is virtually Plan A after her clay pigeon of replacing the Northern Ireland Backstop with an Anglo-Irish Treaty, was shot to pieces by Dublin and Brussels.

Labour’s proposed amendment, however, is deceptive, if not downright deceitful, an exercise in triangulation. It aims to keep Corbyn’s thinly disguised Lexit proposal as the main line whilst fooling the majority of party members, who are in favour of a people’s vote, that this is still “on the table”.

“Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal. It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”

The actual wording of the amendment calls for the government to give parliamentary time to discuss and vote options to prevent a no-deal exit, including “negotiations … to secure a permanent customs union … a strong relationship with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations and a dynamic alignment on rights and standards, in order to command a majority in the House of Commons”. That, of course, summarises Corbyn’s own “Lexit” proposals and there is not the slightest chance of it gaining a majority in the Commons.

The second element of the amendment calls for “a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons”. This is the  deceptive element, it appears to give Labour’s official support to the idea of a second referendum but actually includes a condition that negates the whole idea; if the House of Commons has already got a majority for a deal why would it then agree to a referendum? At present the only pressure for it is the threat of “no deal”. Labour’s pre-condition would remove that pressure.

Although the scale of May’s recent defeat was not expected, it was well known that there would be a period of parliamentary paralysis during which she would stress the, very real, dangers of a “no deal” exit. Jeremy Corbyn also knew that and it is increasingly clear that he is prepared to play May’s game of “running down the clock” until she eventually gets her deal through. It appears that leaving the EU, even on May’s terms, is his highest priority.

Meanwhile, other Labour MPs have come up with their own hopeless amendments that will not deflect May from her course. Stella Creasy and Lisa Nandy are proposing the undemocratic and unworkable idea of a Citizens’ Assembly of 500 members of the public selected at random but representative of the country’s demographics aiming to reach a consensus. By March 29?

Home Affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, has sought parliamentary time for a bill obliging ministers to seek an extension of article 50 if there were no deal by the end of February. The EU has already made clear it will only extend the time limit for constitutional reasons such as an election or a referendum.

May has adopted the only strategy open to her. It could still fail, but she is banking on the threat of “no deal” being enough to bring over Labour MPs who will side with her “in the national interest” while the threat of a possible Corbyn government brings over both the bulk of Rees-Mogg’s Brexiteers and the DUP. As compared to Corbyn’s version of a deal with the EU, May’s has the huge advantage of having been accepted by Brussels!

A second referendum could be one way of preventing Brexit but it would have to secure the enthusiastic backing of the Labour front bench. Pressure for this is certainly mounting within the shadow cabinet, the PLP and the party hierarchy, although it will soon be too late in any case. In any event, it will have served its function as a diversion from the real issues facing the Labour party; what should be its policy and who should decide on it.

The party and affiliated union membership are being denied the right to democratically decide what that policy would be in the unlikely event of a general election or a referendum.

Red Flag is clear

• Corbyn is playing Tony Blair’s triangulation game with the Labour membership – a mirror image of May’s with the right wing Tories. Thinking he has got the anti-Brexit majority in the loyalty bag he is setting out to win the Brexiteers with ….. A Brexit deal.

• This manoeuvre is based on blocking an open debate and conference decision on Brexit in all its forms – a break with his promises of open and honest politics. Those ‘anti-Brexiteers’ who are rallying to him out of loyalty are preparing the inevitable collapse of the Corbyn project, not defending it.

• His version of Brexit would sacrifice the unity of the multinational British working class and the perspective of a united front with those fighting austerity and racism on the continent. It would abandon the jobs and security of millions of EU 27 workers in Britain and deeply alienate Scottish and Northern Irish workers, who voted to Remain.

• The answer is to summon an emergency Labour Conference in which the different forces can put forward their alternatives. This would include the Corbyn leadership’s Lexit, the anti-Brexit pro-EU right, and the internationalists, that is, those who reject Brexit in principle, support free movement and advocate struggle against all the neoliberal and imperialist policies of the EU.

• Stop Brexit either by a general election in which Labour clearly offers this as a key policy, or by a referendum where the alternatives are the Brexit deal agreed by parliament and No Brexit.

• For a Socialist United States of Europe

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