As the threats posed by the Tories’ Brexit policy become more serious and more imminent, the labour movement is not speaking up but saying even less.
In the first half of the year, supporters of Keir Starmer argued his refusal to call for a delay to Brexit, despite the chaos caused by Covid-19, was savvy tactics. “Keir” would speak out at an appropriate time. Now, with the end of the Brexit transition ten weeks away, and a No Deal Brexit a strong and growing possibility, Labour is pretty much silent.
If you dig a bit you can find this or that low-profile statement. All of it is pro-Brexit. On 6 October Rachel Reeves, who is responsible for Labour’s Brexit policy, gave a speech in which her main argument was that Britain would never rejoin the EU. She also opposed rejoining the single market and customs union. She did make a vague nod towards criticism of the Tories, adding: “Just any old [trade] deal [with the EU] is not the deal that a Labour government would be striving for now.”
Yet on 18 October Keir Starmer appeared on TV precisely to support “any old deal”: “The prime minister said he had an oven-ready deal. He should get on and deliver that.”
The Labour leadership seems to have calculated that a low-key and blurry pro-Brexit position is the best way to benefit electorally from future Tory disarray. With a wide range of motivations, no doubt, pretty much the whole trade union movement has effectively rallied behind that stance; as has most of the Labour left.
The electoral calculation may prove disastrously wrong. In any case, this is a betrayal of labour movement values and the interests of the working class.
Labour is saying nothing about the growing threat of a madcap No Deal Brexit, which the great majority of the labour movement and indeed of the population dislikes.
It is saying nothing about about the wider Tory agenda of which any realistically available form of Brexit will be part: attacking workers’ and human rights, slashing environmental protection and consumer standards, seeking a socially destructive trade deal with the USA...
In so far as it is saying anything, the party leadership is supporting a potential Tory Brexit deal which will still mean heavy economic dislocation right in the midst of the fallout from Covid-19, and which will still advance the Tories’ brutal anti-social agenda.
The labour movement should oppose and campaign against every aspect of the Tories’ plans. Even at this point, we should demand a lengthy delay to Brexit, to ward off immediate disasters and to allow what the government wants to be subjected to proper democratic scrutiny.
We should open up an urgent discussion in Labour Parties and trade unions, hold our “leaders” to account, and push them to oppose the Tories.
• For a statement and model motion, see the Labour for a Socialist Europe website.
• Another Europe is Possible is running a “Fight for the Future” campaign to oppose the Tories’ Brexit plans: see here.