Corbyn-supporting Labour members like me have tried to make Brexit work, but it’s time to dump it completely

Jeremy Corbyn pictured next to the Brexit Party logo
Joshua Funnell

This article is one of three Opinion pieces looking at what’s next for Brexit in the aftermath of the EU elections. You can also read Tracy Keeling argue why Labour mustn’t support a second referendum and Frea Lockley on how racism has been the biggest winner from Brexit.

 

You don’t hear much about people like me. We’re the Corbyn-supporting die-hards who’ve compromised, but secretly wished Brexit would die all along.

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But we now know that Labour’s admirable soft-Brexit compromise has failed. In my experience, the only Brexit that’ll satisfy most leave voters is on destructive no-deal terms. And we can see that Brexit is fuelling the far right. Confronted by that difficult reality, we have no choice but to become a remain and transform party, or face the political wilderness.

Why Labour’s noble strategy has failed

Labour has tried to be the adult in the room. Brexit won by 51.9% leave to 48.1% remain. In any sensible country, that would mean we leave – but keep relatively close to the EU.

But people have forgotten that we aren’t a reasonable country. We’re a country that had an empire and whose broken voting system means the winner takes all and, constitutionally speaking, says ‘fuck the losers!’

Despite this, Labour nobly believed it could bridge the Leaver / Remainer divide, and find a British compromise. Which, apparently, is a thing…

When two tribes go to war

With hindsight, this strategy was always naïve.

The referendum was inherently polarising, a binary choice between Leave and Remain. Like Corbyn, I don’t want to think of people as ‘Leavers’ or ‘Remainers’. But like it or not, many people do. That’s what the Conservative’s referendum gave us: the genie is out of the bottle. And so, as admirable as it might seem to say “the real divide is between the many and the few”, the real division between Remainers and Leavers is an inconvenient truth that won’t go away.

In retrospect, the moment Leave or Remain was printed on the ballot papers, we were fucked. If you put people into simplistic categories, then simple dogmas develop to distinguish one camp from the other. And without fail, the most extreme voices with the simplest uncompromising visions take command of the ship.

And so it has proven.

On the Remain side, calls for a second referendum have mutated into calls to revoke article 50 and remain. On the Leave side, campaigns which explicitly said leaving wouldn’t mean exiting the single market, or a no-deal Brexit, now claim it could mean so.

And this ‘no-deal is the only true Brexit’ narrative has taken hold like a bushfire on the Leave side.

What a trip to Cyprus taught me about Brexit voters

I sensed this was happening while on holiday in February. I was out one night in Cyprus with my girlfriend’s parents and their friends. We were on one of those stereotypical Mediterranean holiday strips where restaurants sell pies and pints to give that authentic foreign experience…

If there was a perfect example of the British working class, they were it. Train drivers, builders, shop workers, and so on. We sat chatting and drinking for five minutes before Brexit inevitably came up. “No deal will do for us,” announces Tony on behalf of himself and his wife. “Yep, WTO will be fine, we’ve always got through in the past,” says David.

You can poll people all you want, but sitting there I knew this was the new Leaver’s Brexit common sense. A few months later and a no-deal Brexit has gone mainstream.

Mum and dad: soft Remainer polling

I’ve also conducted extensive polling of my Remainer parents.

It dawned on me before the European elections that mum had asked me 4 times in the last month what Labour’s Brexit policy was. And despite my best diagrams and epic explanations, it was still a mystery to her. Dad was more to the point: “Look, I’m not being funny, but I think they’re getting it wrong. People don’t get it.”

And that’s just the point. Beyond the geeky political world, people are crying out for simple messaging. Something that’s understandable when Brexit has become such a complex mess. But should Labour pander when the reality is more complex? Perhaps not. But when hard-right Brexit supporters are offering simple solutions and gaining popularity, you have to change tactics to stop them winning. And unfortunately, that might mean sacrificing some pro-Brexit support in the process.

Labour’s third way Brexit approach needs to change, dramatically

So this is where I’m at.

I’ve long suspected Labour’s Brexit policy was a one-way ticket on the Titanic. But I’m a democrat and respected the dangerous consequences of ignoring people that feel rage against the machine.

But there’s only so much understanding I can give people.

Because now, respecting people’s democratic wishes and grievances feels like pandering to those who’d happily drive us all off a cliff, sticking their foot down on the accelerator and shouting “FREEEEEDOM! NO DEAL BREXIT! DEATH TO TRAITORS! BLUE PASSPORTS FOR ALL!!”. And all for a type of Brexit that nobody can credibly claim people were offered before they voted in the 2016 referendum.

The real danger now isn’t ignoring what people want, it’s giving it to them (a no-deal Brexit). A no-deal Brexit that would gift hard-right Tory fantasists an opportunity to deregulate Britain into a big business tax haven. And for such a vision I have two words: fuck that.

Respecting democracy and understanding people’s fears and frustrations doesn’t mean you knowingly let them fly us all into the sun.

This fundamental dilemma for Labour means remain is the only viable option

If the only Brexit that satisfies Leave voters is no-deal, then what’s the justification for Labour’s soft Brexit anymore? Because trust me, it won’t satisfy Leavers.

Time and again when I ran in the local elections, both I and the Labour Party itself were accused of “betraying Brexit / democracy” – despite us pledging to honour the referendum. And the clear implication from voters was that only a clean no-deal Brexit would do.

Meanwhile, all the dedicated Remainers will simply vote Lib Dem or Green, or any other party that opposes Brexit unconditionally. Meaning: we’ll be hammered from both sides, instead of one.

Brexit is now a far-right cause

Brexit has also well and truly become the cause of the far right, with its politics of hatred, social conservatism and racism. And socialist Brexit supporters (Lexiteers) must accept they are the minority. Arguably, by continuing to support Brexit, they are playing a dangerous game and injecting rocket fuel into a far right that thrives off the same Brexit cause they support.

Labour’s options

The above considered, there are only three options. One, hold the line and persist with the soft Brexit approach that has failed. Two, become a no-deal Brexit party and betray everything we believe in. Or three, be honest with people. Tell them a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster. Tell them leaving the EU won’t solve all their problems, or fix our rotten democracy or economy. And finally, pledge to remain and TRANSFORM (not reform) the EU to solve the climate and economic crises we face with the combined efforts of our European comrades. As Paul Mason argued in the Guardian:

Labour’s narrative has to be built around resistance to Brexit as a project of the racist and xenophobic right, and a story of communities revived by hope and solidarity

‘But Tom Watson and the People’s Vote crew are dicks!’ – so what?

The difficulty with what I’ve proposed is the understandable hostility many Corbyn supporters have towards the People’s Vote campaign.

They rightly conclude that many in this campaign are motivated as much by destroying Corbynism, as they are by stopping Brexit. And there’s no doubt that their tactic of attacking Corbyn has put off many pro-European Corbynites. This hasn’t been helped by the campaign’s association with careerists like Tom Watson, or Chuka Umunna.

But not everyone in that campaign is a middle-class liberal hell-bent on stopping socialism in our time. And, although you might hate me for saying it, it’s reflective of the tribalism that plagues our politics that too many people are unable to see past this. I’d ask you: what is the alternative?

Because if Labour’s soft Brexit has failed to win hearts and minds and the alternative is a far-right Farage-type no-deal Brexit catastrophe, then people need to choose the lesser evil, and fast.

Whether you like it or not, this is where we’re at.

We can’t let Brexit kill the possibility of a socialist government

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps the EU elections don’t reflect wider public opinion. Perhaps the normal people stayed at home and would vote differently at a general election. But from my own experience (and it is just my own) I highly doubt it.

We need to keep our eye on the greater prize. Because the stark reality is that the unpopularity of our party now, because of Brexit, might undermine the possibility of a future socialist Labour government.

So it’s time to say, without shame, let’s kill off an extreme far-right Brexit.

Featured image via Sky News and France 24 English.

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    1. I read the headline and didn’t bother with the rest, because we had a referendum and the remainers lost, they also lost the Euro elections, just because that is via First past the post is also irrelevant.

      Europe is not the social democracy that remainers believe it is, it is also economically unstable, and staying in is like clinging to the decks of the titanic as it goes down.

      I would of thought the Canary would have done some in depth analysis on the current state of Europe – why there is a rise in fascism, the Euro and ECB have created massive trade imbalances that threaten its very existence.

      Just one indicator from the EU’s own statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Intra-EU_trade_in_goods_-_recent_trends

      1. Mervyn, the UK is not a democracy at all under this Government. The Remainers lost by only 1m votes – hardly a resounding mandate to leave the EU is it? Well, I guess it doesn’t matter much does it if Trump is re-elected and his orange ally Bojo the Buffoon is elected as Prime Minister here, a hot war will be inevitable and we won’t have to watch the UK sink into a 2nd/3rd world country will we?

    2. I think most people know the fault lines in the EU however being out of it will not protect us from hurt. Neoliberalism is the villain. A Labour government is essential or we go under, in or out of the EU, that is a fact. However three years in and there is no sign of Britain doing trade deals with anyone and no one in Parliament will agree on any settlement. Labour have to make a decision now, this can not go on. I agree with the article that Brexit now needs to be disposed of as having failed , yes the vote was leave but the leavers have failed to both leave and gather even the beginning of any trade deal with any country. That in any ones view is failure.

    3. Ridiculous. Even Zoe Williams did a better job in the Guardian. The people who voted the liberals have absolutely no desire to vote the present Labour party whether we go fully behind Remain or not. The fact is they just don’t like us under Jeremy Corbyn. Can’t you see that? Campbell, Charles Clarke all the Blairites and the Guardian gits. Our policy on Brexit is just a red herring. I could only hope that Labour never abandon Leave voters. Or my vote goes to Brexit party.

      Leaving the EU during the referendum campaign was seen as leaving the single market and the present custom union. That is why all these outlandish scenarios were busily painted by the Remain side. The government, IMF, Obama, World Bank, Bank of England, IFS you name it. Of course the question on the ballot paper can’t be posed too long. But leaving the EU means just that. Not only Theresa May and co but also the EU is to be blamed for this fiasco, if you care to read what Varoufakis has to say about the dirty EU bureaucrats. And yet we are being asked to shaft Brexit. I will vote with the far-right if I have to. And it is a media fascination to bunch all Brexit voters with far-right. All my commie friends also want ‘clean’ Brexit.

    4. Those who call to ignore the Brexit referendum can never again call themselves democratic. You can’t be partly democratic only when you agree with a result. It is all or nothing.

    5. The reality is that JC will never become prime minister if he does not fully endorse a second referendum, the local and EU election results prove this. It is the real “will of the people” and those who reject it can not call themselves democratic.
      In the past 3 years many Brexiters have died of old age while many remainers have gained the right to vote. Also many people have changed their minds in light of the lies of the brexiters.

      1. Frank, just because a Government doesn’t like the result of a Referendum it is not acceptable to ask for a second one is it? We all know the Leave campaign was built on significant lies and the willful misuse of £70m of public money which the police refuse to investigation on the basis that ‘it is not in the public interest’ despite the Electoral Reform Society finding significant evidence of criminal behaviour. However, those lies were so oh so obvious during the campaign they were there for all to see. However, the massive deceitful propaganda in favour of Leave mounted by the MSM actually swayed a lot of people’s opinions.

        This is the kind of nation we have become Frank, a nation of Sheeples who question nothing even when lies are in plain sight and wopping lies at that (think Skripal). In such a serious issue as this, it is incumbent on the public to make sure they are well informed before making any sort of vote on it. We are rapidly becoming a poor nation thanks to Cameron’s and May’s Governments serious mishandling of the economy, Brexit, especially with a No Deal exit, will have far reaching and serious consequences for the UK; we will become an even poorer nation. Unfortunately, this Government hasn’t got a single clue as to how to put it all right have they? We have become a nation of brainwashed sleepwalkers under this Government happily walking our way into a totalitarian State and poverty. But hey ho – who gives a damn – certainly not this Government.

    6. Curious responses to this article. However, it has to be said there is a lot of rational thought in it. I for one, am sick and tired of hearing the old mantra ’17m voted for Brexit’ yes but, 16m voted to Remain therefore, it isn’t a significant mandate for Brexit is it? More importantly, Teresa Mays’ chronic, embarrassing and corrupt handling of the Brexit process is what has created the extremist pro Brexit view that currently prevails. It is also the case that the MSM rarely give column inches to the Remainers point of view. It is now a well established fact, and plenty of documentary evidence to support this, that the Leave campaign was fraudulent, based on lies and backed by a criminal misuse of public funding which the police have refused to investigate on the grounds that it ‘is not in the public interest’ (for which read not in this Government’s interest); it is also clearly established in these same documents and evidence, in the financial press and by statements made by the Confederation of British Industry that a No Deal Brexit will catapult the UK into economic oblivion. We are already, thanks to this corrupt, incompetent, lying, cheating Tory Government rapidly becoming a poor nation who do not have a clue how to put things right. A No Deal Brexit spells economic oblivion – so the people the author of this article met on holiday that a No Deal will be good for them – is so far removed from reality as to be disturbing.

      For me personally, speaking as a Remainer, I commend the Labour Party for the sensible Brexit proposals they have promoted which is accepted by the EU negotiators as a good outcome. It shows it is the only Party who is listening to both sides of the argument and attempting to steer an acceptable way forward and one that will not damage the Uk economy. So I support their strategy.

      Much was made in the recent local elections that Labour lost some (not much) political ground to the Lib Dems who are a Remain Party. Not so, the Lib Dems made gains because Tory voters could not continue to vote for this Tory Government’s corruption, lies and complete destruction of the UK’s economy and international reputation. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote Labour so they voted Lib Dems. This won’t translate into General election votes.

      So, whilst I agree with much of what this article says, I say Labour still has the best options on the table and in essence, by the time the next election is called, Brexit won’t be on the agenda.

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