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Originally published in the Independent
Day two of conference in sunny Brighton, and UK Labour’s Brexit policy is about to be decided. Tonight is the important composite meeting, where the final text of Labour’s policy will be decided upon by delegates ahead of Monday’s crucial vote.
UK Labour must join the view of the devolved nations and commit to an unambiguous stance to campaign for Remain.
With three of the four nations already declaring they will do just that, the pressure is intensified. Both Welsh and Scottish Labour Parties are united behind opposing Brexit entirely, and both the Labour Party in Northern Ireland and the Labour Irish Society have submitted motions calling for Remain. This essentially means that Labour is already committed to campaigning for Remain, with the exception of the party in England.
As the party of government in Wales, Welsh Labour has been unequivocal. Mark Drakeford, first minister and leader told conference today: “My Welsh Labour government will continue to stand up for Wales by campaigning whole-heartedly, vigorously, and unapologetically for Wales to remain in the European Union.” Equally clear, Scottish Labour has been in favour of Remain since June, when the party’s executive agreed to endorse a confirmatory referendum on Brexit and said that the party would back remain in that referendum.
While Labour does not stand candidates in Northern Ireland, Labour members there submitted a motion to conference which states: “Any form of Brexit threatens jobs, workers’ rights, migrants, the NHS, public services and the environment, and makes it harder to deliver a radical manifesto.” Meanwhile, the Labour Party Irish Society, an influential affiliated socialist society, has also submitted a motion to the conference calling on Labour “to show solidarity with the people of Northern Ireland and protect the Good Friday Agreement by opposing any Brexit deal and make campaigning to remain in the EU a manifesto commitment.”
Up to now, the party in England has lagged behind. But at conference, it can – and must – catch up. Over 90 motions have been submitted across the UK, and 90 per cent of these are for a clear Remain stance. Party members are no less pro-Remain in England than elsewhere, and there is a real anti-Brexit buzz around conference in Brighton, with “Labour Can Stop Brexit” and “Remain, Reform, Revolt” tote bags at every turn.
This year’s conference is critical. It takes place on the eve of a general election, and we cannot go into that election with a different position in England to elsewhere. We need to go into the election united in our Brexit position – both united in terms of having the policy our members and voters want, and in having a consistent policy across the UK. To go into the most important election in living memory without clarity and consistency on the biggest political issue of the day would send a mixed message to voters in Scotland and Wales, with UK Labour contradicting the position they hear from their own Labour parties.
Just as working-class communities in England need a Labour government in Westminster, people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also desperately need change. Across the UK, people have been hit by a decade of austerity and face even more destruction in their communities with the threat of Brexit. Getting a Labour government into power, to reverse a decade of economic and social vandalism under the Tories, has never been more vital.
But just as we have a unified position against austerity and for public investment to revitalise our communities, we also need a unified position on Brexit to cut through the media noise and communicate our politics effectively. Only by doing this will we be able to move on to our radical domestic agenda.
If conference does not vote to endorse a Remain position tomorrow, it will be a divisive England-only position. That’s why we are urging all delegates, as well as friends in the trade unions, to vote for an unashamedly anti-Brexit position so we can get on with the job of uniting the party and the country behind our position and, of course, beating the hard-right, hard-Brexiteer Tories.