Anti Brexit or a New Party?

On Monday 14th May, David Miliband, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg spoke in favour of a soft Brexit at a rally in Essex.  Cross party co-operation against Brexit is not controversial, but the press comment suggesting this was a move towards a new Centre Party – noting David Miliband’s return to British politics – sounded alarm bells. Linking the two issues of anti- Brexit and a centre party is a no-brainer.

The Social Democrat Party failed in the 1980s and there is less room in the centre now because  the politics of triangulation pursued by New Labour collapsed. That project, based on compromises with the Tory Right while abandoning any effective defence of centre left politics was New Labour’s answer to four election defeats,  but as Gordon Brown found in 2010 it only produced short  term gains. Politicians of the centre still do not understand their own failure and try to find compromises where there are none – there is no soft Brexit.

The politicians who spoke in Essex were living symbols of a failed politics of retreat. Nick Clegg, now reinventing himself as an anti-Brexit warrior to  large and uncritical audiences, is a warning from history about compromising with the right. There is no ambiguity about  the historical record – Clegg led the Lib Dems into coalition with an austerity producing Tory leadership under Cameron, and lost three quarters of his MPs and over 85% of his MPs (57-8)  in 2015. He himself lost his seat in the 2017 election and his party’s attempt to get a Brexit Referendum through parliament has been an abysmal failure. Nevertheless nothing stops Sir Nick – having had a knighthood conferred by a grateful Establishment – thinking his Orange Liberal politics are the way forward.

Nicky Morgan was the successor to Michael Gove as Education Secretary after a period of turmoil and dogmatism, and did nothing to remedy the problems caused by Gove’s reforms, notably  the GCSE edict which is now causing severe stress and trauma for both pupils and teachers alike. Increased demands and cuts in funding continued to be the Tory recipe for state education, and like Clegg, Morgan has never condemned the austerity policies followed by her Tory Party since 2010. 

David Miliband at least cannot be accused of embracing austerity, but as a fully fledged New Labourite he supported the politics of triangulation and was part of the damaging and electorally disasterous Brown Government which lost in 2010. There is no sign he has revised his political views and as he left the country has made no contribution to Labour’s partial recovery since 2010. 

What Miliband’s contribution to the Campaign With No Name will eventually be is not clear, but he is critical of Corbyn for not wanting the EEA option and accuses him of risking being ‘midwife of a hard brexit’.  But on this Corbyn has a point. We do not want to be like Norway a state with no voice. Saying it would make Britain a vassal state is overegging the pudding, but Brexiteers and anti Brexiteers can agree that the EEA provides  a limbo state neither want. Brexiteers want OUT, Remainers want In. Why be a fringe state with no power? 

The three musketeers seem to be running with the People’s vote campaign without endorsing it. The People’s Vote wants to challenge the terms of the Brexit Deal, but a vote on the terms can be no more than a delaying action, despite a commitment to stay in the EU while the haggling takes place. This avoids the elephant in the room, the 2016 Referendum. Brexiteers argue  that 2016 was a democratic decision to Leave the EU in toto and must be accepted,  a logical view which has convinced some 30% of Remainers, on the latest polls, giving Leave a 2-1 majority. To counter this needs a reasoned case for a third Referendum – there have been two already –  on the core issue of remaining or leaving. There is no point in just putting the terms of the Deal to a vote, and no half way house whether joining the EEA or remaining in the customs union or other evasions. Either we are In or Out the EU. 

For the Remainers who want IN and realise the argument cannot be about half way houses, how to secure a third vote and win the outcome is the only show in town. Parliamentarians have a role to play, and alliances are necessary when the vote on the Deal happens in the autumn. Labour has to be restrained from voting with the Tories and brought to commit to voting against the Tory deal. The objective has to be more than a soft Brexit. The choice has to be to offer  a third, binding referendum on staying in the EU. To have any chance of securing this objective, playing within the existing party structures is a given. As the crisis develops, a General Election is likely to happen as the Tory Party rips apart. We need an undivided Labour Party to face up to the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

May 2018


  1. John Hurley says:

    Good article Trevor. Two points – I am heartened that there is now a Labour Left campaign including some Corbynites to change our policy on Brexit. That deserves support ( Guardian today ). There is also another poll knocking about which shows a 60% preference to remain which has got Brexiters worried. The difference in polling, as ever I suspect, are the questions being asked of a confused and weary public. Yes I would like a full referendum on the deal with a “these are the terms In or Out” but I do not see this as an achieveable reality.

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