- On 10 August a YouGov poll indicated that 53% would vote to remain in the EU in a new referendum, including 77% of Labour voters;
- On 12 August, research by Focaldata indicated there is a majority for staying in the EU in 341 constituencies out of 632 (compared with 229 in June 2016).
- Public opinion is shifting and opposition to Brexit is growing; this is a set-back for the anti-immigrant racism that was central to the Leave campaign;
- Labour must encourage this development in order to take power, and must therefore end the confusion over the Party’s approach to Brexit;
- No-one in Labour believes immigrants and free movement of people cause cuts and poverty, but the Party’s opposition to the free movement of people legitimises that prejudice;
- Continuing Tory government means a disastrous Brexit fostering higher levels of racism and leading to more poverty and austerity.
Conference therefore calls on the Leadership to:
- Commit to maintaining free movement of people with no new restrictions;
- Seize the earliest opportunity to vote down Government Brexit measures that do not meet that requirement as well as Labour’s commitments to a customs union and the “Exact Same Benefits” as single market membership;
- Force a general Election and make those policies a key part of its campaign and its programme for a fairer, thriving and more equal Britain.
Why MFJ is promoting this motion for the Labour Party Conference
Movement for Justice has drawn up this ‘contemporary motion’ for this year’s National Conference of the Labour Party (23-26 September). We are circulating it to MFJ supporters and others who are committed to saving and extending the free movement of people and understand the depth of the crisis posed by Brexit. We are asking you, if you are a Labour Party member, to circulate and discuss the motion among other members and get your Constituency Labour Party (CLP) to submit it for debate at the forthcoming conference (the deadline for submissions is Noon on 13 September). If you are not in the Labour Party, please discuss it with friends and relatives who are members and ask them to put it forward.
As we point out in the motion, there are clear indications of a shift in public opinion away from support for Brexit, driven by those groups that were already anti-Brexit – youth, black and minority ethnic voters, and Labour voters – but also affecting some strongly pro-Brexit areas. That is encouraging, and it’s a set-back for the racist anti-immigrant bigotry that defines Brexit. By itself, however, it won’t dispel the looming crisis. Firstly, the actual level of support for Brexit remains quite solid and Britain is still a deeply divided country. Secondly, the likes of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage are stepping up their efforts to regain ground. That was the purpose of Johnson’s racist rant against women wearing the Burka.
Instead of evasion, the refusal to call out racism and xenophobia, and the self-defeating efforts to appease irrational fears and prejudices that have dominated the discussion about Brexit on the Left, we need…
- A bold Labour leadership that takes an uncompromising stand against the anti-immigrant racism and xenophobia that is the driving force of Brexit;
- A Labour leadership that will fight unequivocally to maintain the free movement of people and oppose any new immigration controls;
- A Labour leadership that will seize the initiative and take decisive, inspiring and timely action to bring down the Government that is heading fast for a Brexit disaster;
That policy can enthuse millions; it can release the dynamism of youth and black, Asian and immigrant communities. For hundreds of thousands of mainly young people it will be the leadership they dreamed of when they flocked into the Labour Party and rallied round Jeremy Corbyn, with his long history of opposition to austerity, racism and imperialist wars. A mass movement that is on its feet and fighting for what it believes can arouse hope and make it infectious – the racist politics of Brexit, after all, are the politics of despair.
What we are proposing is not ‘business as usual’ – because now is not the time for ‘business as usual! The situation is urgent, and we must not under-estimate the danger of the political crisis. It extends across the ‘western democracies’ as the result of the deep-seated problems of their economic policies and relations. Its sharpest expressions are: Donald Trump’s rapidly escalating attack on democratic government in the US, as he attempts to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and shut down the Mueller investigation before November’s congressional elections; the far-right, fascist-backed government of Salvini that is now in power in Italy, pledging to deport 600,000 immigrants, attacking Roma communities, and inspiring a deadly spike of racist and fascist violence; and here in Britain, the disintegration of the Tory government and party, and the looming prospect of a ‘No-Deal Brexit.’
This is reflected in the signs of establishment panic – the business operations moving out, the Government’s ‘public information’ notices about the eventuality of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, the talk of ‘stockpiling’ and police chiefs’ warning of coming ‘social unrest.’
If Labour continues to duck this challenge it is entirely possible that the Government will simply collapse at some point under the weight of its internal conflicts and there will be ‘civil war’ among Tory MPs. A new government with a parliamentary majority can’t be formed and there has to be a general election. Will that be the same as if Labour brings down the Government in Parliament? Absolutely Not.
If, during the autumn, Labour comes out decisively against the attacks on immigration and brings down the Government – or even makes a serious attempt to bring down the Government – over the Brexit negotiations or preparations, and fights the election on that basis, then the progressive forces have the political initiative and will have a real sense of optimism because they have come out stronger. If Labour fails to take that course and there is an election simply because of a Tory split, the situation will be more negative and confused. The Left will be weighed down by pessimism and the Far Right will feel more confident. Such an election is likely to be dominated by the Brexiteers’ rhetoric of ‘betrayal.’
Those on the Left who support a ‘People’s Vote’ on the outcome of Brexit are overwhelmingly motivated by a desire to stop Brexit, at least to stop a ‘hard’ or ‘no deal’ Brexit, and to offer a possible route to staying in the EU. They are opposed to the racism and ant-immigrant bigotry of Brexit and for the most part they are in favour of the free movement of people – that is certainly true of Another Europe Is Possible, who drew up the ‘People’s Vote’ motion that a number of constituencies are submitting to the Labour conference. It is conceived as an attempt to thwart the attempts by Corbyn’s Blairite enemies to present their pro-capitalist, corporate agenda as the ‘liberal,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘internationalist’ alternative to Brexit.
That is perfectly understandable, but because they are trying to save Corbyn from himself they are stuck in the manoeuvres of ‘business as usual.’ Since Corbyn has committed to ending the free movement of people (while he is prepared to maintain the free movement of goods, services and capital) they won’t call on him to change policy and defend it. Worse still, the first action point is to “Oppose any Brexit deal that does not satisfy Labour’s 6 tests.” They must know that the third of the six tests is “Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities.”
Of course, Labour has always claimed that its immigration laws are ‘fair’ and ‘in the interests of the community,’ ever since the 1968 Immigration Act to keep East African Asians who had British passports they fear that would ‘undermine’ his leadership. But, does the ‘Left Against Brexit’ want Labour to bloc an agreement that guarantees continued free movement? It doesn’t seem so: while the original version of their motion, given out at early ‘Left Against Brexit’ rallies, avoided any mention of free movement, the final version slipped in three word, to note that May’s Brexit is “A threat to jobs, freedom of movement, peace in Northern Ireland and the NHS.”
Of course, that statement is perfectly true. The problem is that Corbyn’s Brexit is a threat to the free movement of people as well, but they don’t call on him to remedy that situation. In their eagerness to defend Corbyn’s leadership while staying true to the idea of free movement they have simply produced confusion. And how do they think calling on Corbyn to defend free movement would undermine him? It can only be that they fear calling, in the public arena of a national conference, for a vote to maintain the free movement of people would force Corbyn to come out against them, relying on the support of his right-wing enemies. What they fear is losing Corbyn’s left-wing reputation.
For the Blairites and their backers, a nebulous ‘People’s Vote’ campaign has the great advantage of hiding their unpopular policies behind a veneer of ‘democracy.’ They can afford the cynical manoeuvre; they have the establishment behind them. The Left can’t afford this manoeuvring and confusion, because it plays into the hands of the right wing by dodging the most important political fight in the present crisis, the fight against racist scapegoating which demands that we resolutely defend free movement.
These manoeuvres are simply another aspect of ‘kicking the can down the road,’ the response to the current crisis of all sides in the UK political system. We are near the end of this ‘road’ and the ‘can’ is looking more like a time-bomb. The proposals in the MFJ motion set out the only practical, progressive way forward for Labour in this increasingly urgent situation.