Clive Lewis explains how a left-wing Labour government could lead us out of Brexit

Clive Lewis
Fréa Lockley

Theresa May’s Brexit chaos continues to deadlock UK politics., But there’s a growing left-wing opposition to a Conservative-led Brexit, and indeed any Brexit at all. The Canary spoke exclusively to Labour’s Clive Lewis about this plan, and how a Corbyn-led socialist government can lead the UK forward whilst staying in the EU.

Parliament’s now voted against May’s deal three times, yet she may bring it back for a fourth vote. Meanwhile, over six million people signed a petition to revoke Article 50, and over a million people marched in London to call for another Brexit vote. A no deal Brexit still hasn’t been fully ruled out. But as Lewis explained, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another viable alternative.

“We could go much further!”

The Canary asked Lewis how a Corbyn-led government can create a truly socialist economy and remain in the EU. Some so-called ‘Lexit‘ supporters feel that the economic policies in Labour’s manifesto can only be fully enacted if we leave the EU. Lewis was clear that this is not the case:

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I always smile when comrades on the left say our economic plan can’t be enacted within the European Union. Not only is our 2017 election manifesto fully implementable within the EU, we could go much further! We could, for example, nationalise the big six energy companies and repeal Thatcher’s anti-union laws, all while being a member state.

He also pointed out that many “people on the Lexit side of the debate bring up the railways”. But as he explained:

It’s true that the EU requires the service provider and operator to be separate, so we couldn’t have something like British Rail again. But we wouldn’t want that old school model of top-down public ownership anyway. What we want to achieve is more radical than that. Both service and operator could be publicly owned – and democratically controlled, by workers and users – as separate entities.

“No veto, no vote, no voice”

In fact, as Lewis explained, leaving the EU puts the UK in a far weaker position to take these economic policies forward:

Every variant for leaving the EU – from Theresa May’s deal all the way over to Labour’s ‘five pillars’ – still leaves the UK with no veto, no vote, no voice. That means the leadership a Corbyn-led Labour Party could exert on the EU with the support of other comrades, to shift Europe onto a more socialist footing, would be lost. We’d then simply be rule takers.

And as he also said, “if we crash out of the EU”, this could potentially mean “signing dodgy trade deals with Trump”. And that “sets our task of building a socialist economy back significantly”.

“Communities ravaged by a decade of austerity”

As The Canary reported in August 2018, an academic study revealed that that the impact of austerity, since the Conservative-led coalition came to power in 2010, directly influenced the Brexit vote. The study asked Did Austerity Cause Brexit? The damning results revealed that yes, it did. So The Canary asked Lewis about how best to communicate the message to the communities most affected that a socialist government is the only way to end austerity. He agreed that “this is one of the key questions” and feels it’s an issue “that simply hasn’t been addressed well enough”. As he explained:

People were lied to by fanatical Brexiteers promising extra cash for the NHS and the public services we hold dear. Of course, many of these are the same people who want to deregulate our economy, slash provision and make Britain a bargain basement, race-to-the-bottom island of Thatcherism-in-one-country.

But as he made clear, “working class people, both Leave and Remain, aren’t stupid”. He continued:

The vast majority of people in areas that traditionally return Labour MPs know that the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have nothing to offer them. Labour’s offer to communities ravaged by a decade of austerity is prosperity through investment and a massive redistribution of wealth and power to working class areas.

“We have to be honest”

“We shouldn’t patronise people”, Lewis said. Instead, he argued for absolute honesty:

We should be upfront with them and say they were lied to during the Brexit campaign. This doesn’t always go down well, but we have to be honest. We should also make clear many of those who led the main Remain campaign were arguing for the status-quo – something we were not.

“We should also, of course,” he explained, “continue highlighting our popular, progressive policies”. These include:

a Green New Deal, with decent well-paid jobs, living wage, an end to austerity, public ownership, and more money for the services we all rely on.

Jeremy Corbyn: “a thankless task”

As Lewis pointed out, “Jeremy has done his absolute best to hold both wings of the party and the country together”. Corbyn’s continued to try to unite both leave and remain voters. Yet, most establishment media outlets fail to report this. As Lewis said:

Most of the media will always be ‘out to get’ a left-wing leader of the Labour Party. It has been a thankless task but one he should be congratulated on wholeheartedly.

Looking forward, Lewis said:

Now though is the time to ensure the British public have a final say on any Brexit deal. I welcome Jeremy’s recent statements committing Labour to a confirmatory vote.

If Brexit happens…”

The Canary asked Lewis about the impact Brexit has had, and will continue to have, on immigrants, refugees and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Although he knows “people had all kinds of reasons for voting Leave”, he also said:

It’s undeniable that racism was a major driver of the Brexit campaign – as illustrated by the spike in hate crime which has not stopped but continued to grow since the referendum. If Brexit happens, it will lead to attacks on migrants not only in the streets but also on the level of policy.

But if the Conservatives push ahead with May’s Brexit there are other crucial issues to consider:

Ending free movement would mean the biggest expansion of border controls in decades, meaning more people in detention centres, more deportations, more separated families.

And, as he also explained, this has devastating implications for some of the most vulnerable people:

The government’s plans for registering EU nationals already living here risks tens of thousands of people becoming undocumented overnight – in particular, children in care, disabled and homeless people, and victims of domestic violence. 

“There is no form of Brexit that helps migrants”

Lewis said that “we must criticise the EU’s policy towards refugees”. But he also said that “it’s not Brussels” that stops “Britain from accepting more non-EU migrants, including those fleeing wars”. He stated emphatically that it’s “Westminster” we must blame. Corbyn has consistently backed calls for the UK to welcome more refugees. Yet as Lewis said, “the Tories’ post-Brexit immigration plans” do little more than offer “free movement for the wealthy few and a hostile environment for the many”. Most importantly, Lewis said:

There is no form of Brexit that helps migrants, and nearly every form of Brexit would make things worse.

He continued:

We must be clear: it’s not our neighbours and colleagues with foreign accents who are to blame for poverty, NHS queues or the housing crisis. It’s the Tories. 

“Fertile ground for the far-right”

“Unfortunately,” Lewis also explained, “the far-right could potentially benefit from all of the likely scenarios coming out of Brexit.” He continued:

If we crash out and the economy tanks, that provides fertile ground for the far-right, for example. We’re in a very difficult situation.

“Our job,” he said “is to fight back and build a mass movement against racism and fascism”. As he explained, “when we get into government”, Labour will:

implement radical, sustainable, redistributive policies that win people over and halt the march of the populist right. We need to demonstrate that politics can work for the many rather than the few at the top.

“Brexit will be a disaster for working people”

In 2018, Philip Alston – the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty – made it very clear that Brexit will affect the poorest people the most. He was highly critical of the current Conservative-led government, saying it was clear to him that “the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought”. Lewis agreed: “This is, unfortunately, absolutely the case”. As he explained:

If you look at the regional funding that will be lost, the dodgy trade deals that will have to be rushed through, lowering our standards, and the likely deregulation of the economy that will tilt our economy even more in favour of the exploiters and the super-rich, it is clear Brexit will be a disaster for working people.

“People are already struggling to make ends meet with Tory austerity”, he continued:

low wages, precarious work and vicious cuts to services, with many being pushed into poverty. This in the fifth richest country on the planet!

“The Tory Brexiteers,” he said, “have treated ordinary people with utter disdain during the whole process”. 

“Our place in Europe”

The Canary asked Lewis what other important policy issues he feels have stayed hidden behind parliament’s continued Brexit focus. He’s recently supported plans for a Green New Deal with Green MP Caroline Lucas. But he’s also concerned about “Britain’s place in the world”.

“Since Suez,” he said, “the British state and people have never really come to terms with what kind of country we are in this period of post-empire”. He continued:

Although still one of the wealthiest (and most unequal) nations in the western world, we’ve still seen a dramatic loss in our global role and power. So much so, even one of the raisons d’être for the ‘United Kingdom’ – namely the creation of a global empire – has now been comprehensively questioned. We’ve seen this with the rise in Scottish and Welsh nationalism.

“Our place in Europe” he explained:

feels like part of a larger internal fight going on about whether the UK looks back to its past for future guidance or throws its lot in with the continent. This is as much a cultural issue as it is economic.

A way forward

“The best way out of this mess”, Lewis said, “would be to put whatever deal passes Parliament back to the British people in a final say referendum”. “More democracy,” he insisted, “is not less democracy!”

Lewis doesn’t think that Revoking Article 50 alone offers a simple solution. He feels it could be viewed as “a direct cancellation of a public democratic wish”. But he does think it could be used “only as a last resort to stop a chaotic Brexit”.

Lewis was very clear about a way forward. Ultimately, this is to bring unity and cohesion back to the country. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said:

any revocation of Brexit must be used as a breathing space to heal the wounds Brexit has caused our country and to allow the public to have a final say on whatever deal parliament was able to agree on in the extra time revocation would enable.

“Ultimately,” he said “it’s the only extension process the UK parliament has that it can activate itself without EU approval”.

Featured image via Wikimedia – Rwendland

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