A different Remain. Colin Hines is one of the few trying to promote remain, while correcting the failed policies that resulted in Brexit. The question is if the Tories and the EU are seeking an amicable solution or trying to secure their own power?
Colin Hines has worked in the environmental movement for over 40 years on issues ranging from population, food, proliferation, and the adverse environmental and social effects of international trade. He is also the convener of the Green New Deal Group and blogs at Progressive Protectionism
We at Brave New Europe don’t take a position on Brexit. While we recognise that many dark and odious forces lay behind the Brexit vote, and that the process will inflict significant economic damage on many people, we also know that European institutions and policies typically reflect a strong neoliberal slant – and we launched this project to oppose and change this. We have sympathy with the anger against European institutions – but we also believe in the principle of European cross-border co-operation and co-ordination in many areas. Reflecting this complex reality, we will host both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain articles.
2018 is the year to campaign for halting Brexit, since unless adequately challenged, Tory infighting and disarray could mean that next year the UK is dragged out of the EU on the worst possible terms. And what role is Labour playing during all this destructive mayhem? Why babbling impotently that a ‘jobs rich Brexit’ is possible. This shamefully puts Labour in the same league as Theresa May’s lies about a frictionless border in Ireland, Michael Gove’s Green Brexit and Boris Johnson’s and Liam Fox’s low tax, deregulated future dolled up as a buccaneering trading opportunity.
Also Labour’s concentration on the effects on trade of leaving the EU drips with the minutiae of the Custom’s Union and Single Market and as such is incomprehensible to the majority. Its time Labour abandoned these public stances and instead publicly embraced a No Brexit approach. Blairites such as Alastair Campbell have called in the Financial Times for Jeremy Corbyn to prioritise such a stance, but such pleas have no chance of electoral success, unless also included is a rethink of the freedom of movement of people, the issue so often skirted around. This in turn will require eliciting help from those in Europe who don’t want the UK to leave. Putting some limits to the free movement of people would anyway be popular in much of Europe, as it would allow each member state to limit the flow of people to the number which it really needs.
Europe is increasingly questioning ‘Freedom of Movement’
Fortunately support for such an idea has recently come from an unlikely source, three former heads of the Germany equivalent of the CBI. They and other German businessman are sure Brexit can be defeated if the EU were to offer ‘A New Deal for Britain’ giving us more autonomy, especially over immigration. Equally encouraging is their view that since the UK referendum there has been a ‘remarkable shift’ among European Governments about EU migration. This shift is crucial to achieving No Brexit, since even the architect of the Leave victory, Nigel Farage, admitted that had the EU given David Cameron the controls on migration he sought pre the referendum, then Brexit would never have happened.
Further evidence for the plausibility of such an approach came from Richard Corbett MEP, leader of the Labour Party in the European Parliament. He has made clear that when it comes to EU freedom of movement, this is not an unconditional right. There are conditions that Britain could start enforcing if it chose, such as the need for EU migrants to have a job after a reasonable period of time, normally considered to be three months, or be self-sufficient and not a burden on the public exchequer. His contention is that other EU Member States ask thousands of people to leave their country every year. It is Britain’s failure to use such safeguards to the full and, where appropriate, send back those with no right to remain, which has created the impression that free movement is a free-for-all.
Another example previously cited in Brave New Europe is the European Commission’s recent tightening of its rules on access to social security. It has said that member states may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens who are economically inactive, meaning those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. The EU Commission’s vice-president Jyrki Katainen has talked of understanding the “unwanted consequences” of freedom of movement.
The route to a Labour election victory-‘No Brexit Plus’
However this approach is not the only key to stopping Brexit, it is also the route to getting Labour elected and hence giving the country a chance to reverse the economically disastrous future planned by the Conservative Government. Given the above a way to election victory becomes clear. Were the party to start arguing strongly for No Brexit with some constraints on EU migration, they would win over a huge numbers of voters under 40 and could ensure the party victory in pro Brexit areas of the Midlands and North. Having assuaged the concerns of the majority about inadequately controlled borders, then leave voters could vote for a No Brexit Labour.
Also crucial will be for the Party to prioritise addressing the other main reason behind Brexit, the lack of any credible polices to improve the lot of the ‘left behind’. The first crucial step as has been said would be to start arguing strongly for No Brexit Plus, with the plus being constraints on EU migration. To this remain and reform agenda should be added a firm commitment to reject austerity and instead use ‘Peoples QE’, public borrowing and fairer taxes to fund improved social and physical infrastructure in every community. Then at last there would be a reason for the majority of both leave and remain voters to put Labour in Number Ten.
Time for young remainers to demand ‘#No Brexit Jeremy Corbyn’
Young remain activists such as those in ‘Our Future Our Choice’ will have an absolutely crucial role in forcing Labour into such a dramatic rethink . They have also made clear that Jeremy Corbyn must support a second referendum on the eventual deal and that during this process Labour must campaign to ‘Remain’. To ensure this approach gets maximum coverage in mainstream and social media its time that young activists replaced the feel good, but directionless, chant of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ with ‘No Brexit ..Jer…emy..Coooorbyn’.
Tshirts, placards and banners emblazoned with ‘#No Brexit Jeremy Corbyn’ could then dominate every Labour gathering, particularly those where the leader is present. Another interesting suggestion that have emerged that would strengthen the democratic say of such younger supporters would be for the party to have its own one person one vote referendum on the issue of No Brexit.
Of course there are still some left wing Brexiteers who continue to assert that there is no point campaigning for a remain and reform line on Brexit, since the EU is an unreformable, neoliberal bloc. Such Lexiteers delude themselves that with one mighty Brexit bound we will be free to achieve socialism in one country, led by the trades unions (a sadly declining sector) and the Labour Party. This ignores the fact that the EU is actually taking the lead in standing up to the likes of Apple when they don’t pay adequate taxes, as well as beginning to take on tax havens. Having said that, of course the EU needs reforms, particularly to address adequately the majority’s opposition to uncontrolled migration and the fact there are no comprehensive polices on offer to improve the lot of those in the ‘left behind’ areas of Europe.
Another factor to take into account is that if Labour’s present dissembling contributes to Brexit and subsequent voter disillusionment results in their election victory, the UK economy will by then be in serious trouble. We will have already become a Mid Atlantic orphan at the mercy of US big business’ trade agenda and buffeted by global capital flows. What chance a Labour ‘tax and spend’ approach countering merciless punishment by the markets when we will have left the shelter of a 28 nation grouping, potentially powerful enough to stand up to global big business.
The trades unionist leader Len McCluskey should also be careful what he wishes for with his wily wheeze advocating Labour MPs to just say no in the autumn vote over a Brexit deal, thus triggering what he considers will be a victorious general election. The stumbling block to this will be persuading Labour MPs from leave constituencies to agree to it. With little between the two parties in the polls it’s quite likely that these politicians will be influenced by the fact that voter antipathy to Jeremy Corbyn and his flip flopping approach to Brexit could mean that leave voters in their constituencies will instead decide to vote Tory, clearly a leave party that means it.
Beware the return of Farage
Finally lurking in the background are the reported plans of that grimly effective duo that brought us Brexit, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks. The right wing press has speculated that Farage and Banks plan initially to launch a country wide movement which will morph into a party choosing effective and professional candidates to push for a hard Brexit. Labour should keep alert to this potential addition threat to it securing victory at the next election. If it doesn’t sort out a credible policy on limiting the free movement of people then many of its potential supporters could be pushed into the arms either of the Tories or a possible Farage led New Brexit party. If this seems far fetched remember that incredibly during this time of Conservative meltdown that Labour and the Tories are still neck and neck in the polls and that’s while Farage is still safely recuperating in his backwater role as broadcaster.