Opposing Brexit and winning party democracy are part of the same struggle

11 April 2019

Originally published in the Morning Star

Author: Paul Sweeney

THIS critical stage in the Brexit debate is a time for the Labour left to present a united front. If you listen to some on the pro-Leave side, you would think most remainers in the Labour Party are neoliberals, longing for a return to some sort of pre-2016 utopia when the members kept quiet and party policy was dictated by centrist triangulation, instead of our democratic membership.

But in recent weeks, as the Brexit chaos has turned into a government meltdown, the left-wing opposition to Brexit — a quiet majority within Labour — has finally come to the forefront of the debate in the party and in the country. This is the perspective voiced by the Love Socialism Hate Brexit group of MPs, of which I am proud to be a part.

Love Socialism Hate Brexit was formed to oppose Brexit because it is a right-wing Tory project — an assault on the environment, migrants and the working-class communities that Labour exists to represent. Brexit is draining our politics, drowning out the real issues that we need to be dealing with.

It is these real issues that the left can win on — tackling homelessness, fighting climate change, ending the inequalities that run deep in our society, and shifting the balance of power towards workers.

We recognise that the European Union requires urgent and radical democratic reform if it is to be sustainable, but if Brexit goes ahead, we face a decade of further political disruption, with TTIP-style trade deals being negotiated, and yet more austerity.

This would be a disaster for Corbyn’s Labour. Failure to oppose Brexit, or working with the Tories to get it through, would also play into the hands of the Lib Dems and Change UK, embolden the far right, and damage the left within Labour.

Ahead of the party’s annual conference last September, an unprecedented 119 Constituency Labour Parties passed motions that explicitly called for a public vote on Brexit.

The final composite mandated MPs to oppose any deal that doesn’t meet our six tests, and called on us to “support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”

The polling is also clear on this. Over 80 per cent of Labour members have consistently said they support a final public say on Brexit and think Brexit will be bad for Britain.

We also know the vast majority of Labour voters supported Remain at the referendum, while Labour leavers in the north of England have shifted to Remain in huge numbers.

Corbyn won two leadership elections comfortably. Large majorities of Labour members support Corbyn and oppose Brexit. The conclusion should be crystal clear: if we are serious about building a democratic, member-led party, we should be campaigning for a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal and, if and when that referendum comes, campaign to remain and democratically transform the neoliberal biases of the European Union single market institutions and elites, in the best traditions of international democratic socialism. This is the will of the membership.

Labour members up and down the country deserve to be heard. The grassroots of the party needs its representatives, at all levels, to reflect their views.

Yes, we are a broad church — both the party and the left within it. There is never going to be complete agreement, and it is right and healthy to have robust debate and differences in a democratic party. But when an issue consistently gets 80 per cent or more support from party members, you are reaching a broad level of consensus that simply cannot be dismissed in a fanciful fear of an electoral backlash.

It is now time for the party to be bold, break the Brexit deadlock, present a clear position to the country, and live up to the promise of the renewed labour movement that has grown around Jeremy Corbyn. Opposing Brexit and winning party democracy are part of the same struggle.