After Article 50

What Christian Wolmar argued for in his article (Corbyn of all people must realise this – Labour MPs must forget the whip and vote against article 50) was valid before Article 50 was passed. Now there is a a new situation where both a referendum and parliament have voted for Brexit, the options must change. The argument for ‘losing in the short term’ to ‘win in the long term’ is weak, since losing in the short term can set off a cycle of defeats that can destroy Labour. The short term and the long term have to be part of the same strategy.

A strategy for the long term cannot be about putting obstacles in the way of Brexit, which would not stop it, but would appear negative and anti democratic. The weak point of the anti-Brexit position is that it lost in 2016, and the opposition can and do tag us as anti – democrats for not accepting the result. To reverse this we need to be the ultra democrats who want more democracy in the terms of a second referendum on whatever deal is being done. The Russian Roulette aspect of the decision of June 23rd was not acceptable. If the deal is bad, it must be opposed. And this is not about Hard or Soft Brexit, as some on the left (including Open Labour) are arguing. There is an issue of principle that separation will be harmful. But this has to be sold to the majority of the people of the UK.

The weak point of the Brexit position is their argument that |June 23rd was the “Will of the People”. Christian is right there was no majority in the UK, and certainly not in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but there was a majority of those who voted. The referendum of June 23rd was deeply flawed, as Christian says, but to say too much about it is looking like being bad losers. It is vital to avoid the trap of repeating the Metropolitan elite view that the beliefs of the people of the English and Welsh suburbs and the decaying old industrial areas can be ignored. That charge, which is true, is UKIPs best calling card. This was the mistake the New Labour- Cameron elite made.

It is also true that the vote may have been advisory to start with, but the government booklet did say it would ‘implement what you decide’. Labour was not committed to that position, but Corbyn Labour has sold that pass. A viable anti Brexit position has to argue that Russian Roulette was not what the Referendum committed the UK to. If there is a bad deal, it must be opposed. The final decision to implement has to be by a second referendum.

To set out this position has to involve more than economic arguments. The last referendum centred on this, and lost. Leavers did not believe them, and the depression did not arrive on time. As the Bank of England Economist Andrew Haldane has accepted, the experts got it wrong. We can and should argue the evil day has only been postponed, but we have to have other arguments. Peace in Europe and living co-operatively with your neighbours are good lines to take.

Above all, we have to address the need for immigration to be controlled. Cameron lost control of immigration, and this is unacceptable. Immigration provides tangible benefits, but immigration is not necessarily to the benefit of the workers, especially unskilled or semi skilled workers, and to gain support means accepting this is the case. The arguments of Marx on the ‘reserve army of labour’ are true, and immigration must not mean a cheap labour policy. We need to learn from the Wilson government of 1968 on how to address immigration. And stop not talking about the topic.

The case for a second referendum has to be built on Labour’s 2016 position, stay in to reform the EU, and the reforms which are now overdue should be spelt out in a developing anti-Brexit campaign. But the Corbyn Labour Party is likely to be a major problem for developing an anti-Brexit Movement. In Stoke this weekend the line being put out in the Central seat by -election under Gareth Snell’s name was”Gareth will deliver a Brexit that works for the Potteries” and in note for canvassers “Gareth and the other Stoke Labour M Ps will vote through Brexit in parliament”.If this is the actual line then any anti-brexit campaign will find itself having to fight Corbyn Labour and will be lining up with the Article 50 rebels across the political spectrum. Not a prospect to embrace lightly.

Trevor Fisher, 6th February 2017

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