We’ve come a long way on Brexit – but let’s keep up the pressure

19 July 2019

Originally published on Labour List 

Author: Clive Lewis MP

I had the pleasure of spending Monday evening at the Love Socialism Rebuild Britain Transform Europe meeting in the House of Commons – and the atmosphere was electric. The room was packed with Labour supporters excited to hear shadow cabinet members unequivocally speaking out against Brexit, in some cases for the first time since the referendum.

There was no equivocation in their speeches, no disclaimers, no ifs or buts. “No matter what deal is on the table, and which party has negotiated it, our position must be to remain in the EU and oppose any form of Brexit,” Emily Thornberry said. Keir Starmer emphasised that Remain must be more than an option on the table but also the outcome Labour actively fights for. Campaigning to stay in Europe is consistent with the best internationalist traditions of our party, added Diane Abbott. “I am tremendously pleased that we are now committed to a referendum in which we will campaign to Remain,” read a statement sent over by John McDonnell.

For those of us who have long argued that Labour must oppose Brexit, this was a moment of celebration and relief. As I said on the night, it’s felt lonely sometimes in the anti-Brexit foxholes on the left wing of our party, but my god the reinforcements have arrived. Labour MPs are finally allowed to say what most of them have been thinking: Brexit is a rightwing project that can do nothing but harm to working class people. Labour members are finally hearing what they always deserved to hear from us: that Labour will fight to keep Britain in Europe.

However, outside the Labour bubble, our prospects are looking rather scary. Reckless Brexiteer Boris Johnson is about to be handed the keys to Number 10, promising to drag us out of the EU by October, whatever it takes – including suspending parliament. The only thing that can save us from crashing out of Europe may well be bringing down Johnson’s government.

Labour must be ready for the possibility of an autumn general election. If it happens, it will be a historic one: determining the future of the UK for not just years but decades to come. To defeat the hard-right agenda of both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, we will need to offer the very opposite, on Brexit as much as on the economy. Voters are telling us that any kind of fudge won’t cut it anymore. To win, we will need to make our anti-Brexit message clear, passionate and credible. It must also be an unapologetically socialist one; closely tied with the vision for Britain and Europe we want to build once we end this nightmare.

Monday’s meeting marks a decisive shift in our party’s approach to Brexit, and full credit must be given to our members who spent the past year campaigning for it. Now, we need to push it to the final step. Positive words from some of the shadow cabinet must be turned into clear manifesto commitments: that Labour will oppose any kind of Brexit, fix Britain and start building the alliances we need to transform Europe. This week, I’ll be marching as part of Another Europe is Possible’s Left Bloc on the No to Boris, Yes to Europe march, and I hope the shadow cabinet will join us there as well.

We have only got this far because members – the rank and file of the party that elected Jeremy Corbyn and have, collectively, transformed politics – pushed and pushed at a grassroots level. And there is a danger, now that Labour’s position has shifted, that the pressure will relent.

This would be a huge mistake, because we haven’t yet won. We need a clear commitment, in written policy that members and unions adopt, to campaigning for Remain in any future referendum. We need to defend free movement as a workers’ right, rather than as an incidental feature of single market membership. And more than any policy, we need a moment of catharsis, in which the sentiment of our base and the policy of our leadership, at long last, come together and lend credibility to each other.

A coalition of groups including Another Europe is Possible, Open Labour and Labour for a Socialist Europe are backing a radical anti-Brexit motion, outlining the kind of approach our party should take: actively campaigning against both Brexit and its root causes while setting out our agenda for a Europe for the many. This is the position that can win us the next general election. We’ve already come a long way over the past year. By making sure that your CLP submits the anti-Brexit motion, you can make sure that we are ready for the final push.

Love Socialism, Rebuild Britain, Transform Europe (formerly Love Socialism Hate Brexit) is a group of radical and socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter here.