This is a reply to a Full Brexit article.
The “Full Brexit” project describes itself as a network of “activists, academics, journalists and policy experts, all on the broad political left” dedicated to “seizing the historic opportunity Brexit offers for restoring popular sovereignty, repairing democracy, and renewing our economy”.
Its list of founding signatures includes Paul Embery (of the Arron Banks-funded Trade Unionists Against the EU group who recently spoke at Nigel Farage’s Brexit rally) and Maurice Glasman (of Blue Labour, slogan “Faith, Family and Flag”).
On 25 March, these policy experts organised a meeting that was addressed by Eddie Dempsey (alongside Costas Lapavitsas, Grace Blakeley and others).
Dempsey said“whatever you think of people that turn up for those Tommy Robinson demos or any other march like that – the one thing that unites those people, whatever other bigotry is going on, is their hatred of the liberal left and they are right to hate them”. He also remarked that “too many in the Labour Party have made a calculation that there’s a certain section at the top end of the working class, in alliance with people, they calculate, from ethnic minorities and liberals, that’s enough to get them into power.” After the meeting he accused a critic of having “pockets full of Soros money”. These remarks drew criticism from socialists.
The Full Brexit has published a response to these criticisms, angrily protesting that while Dempsey expressed himself “clumsily”, his “anti-racist activism” proves that it’s unfair to accuse him of being on the far right.
When Dempsey says that attendees at EDL rallies are “right to hate” the “liberal left”, the Full Brexit writers say, he’s right: “many workers hate the liberal left”. When he says that the Labour Party has organised a betrayal of working-class voters "in alliance with people from ethnic minorities and liberals", that’s not Dempsey repeating a far-right narrative, it’s just a fact.
No further argument is offered. The Full Brexit move on, leaving the reader wondering how they fail to see the problem with these statements. When Dempsey and the Full Brexit endorse the far right’s hatred of the “liberal left”, who do they mean? Helpfully, they explain who “the liberal left” are according to the Full Brexit, further down the page:
“Brexit has made it clear that the Left is divided between its liberal and socialist wings. The former is associated with a variety of anti-Brexit positions, including 'remain and reform', while the latter defends the vote for Brexit and criticises the EU as undemocratic.”
So according to our policy experts, the core of the "socialist left" is those who now back the Tory hard-right's option ("no deal": no "Lexiter" Labour MP has put down a "Lexit" option for the "indicative votes" in the Commons). The “liberal left”, which is squeamish about workers’ involvement in politics, and whom the English Defence League (and assorted other Robinson fans) are absolutely right to hate, includes not only revolutionary socialists like us around Solidarity, but also:
• an overwhelming majority of Labour Party members (who voted Remain and continue to oppose Brexit) • a majority of Momentum members (who voted in an online consultation to back a second referendum) • the leaderships of the GMB and Unison (both unions calling for a second referendum) • the Unite West Midlands Automotive Sector Committee (which was one of several Sector Committees to call for a second referendum in 2018) • almost all sitting Black Labour MPs • Unison’s Black members, whose 2019 conference resolved to “seek a reversal of the Labour Party’s opposition to the free movement of people, and to call on the Labour Party to use every opportunity to defeat the Government, as this would force a general election and stop Brexit.”
Unfair? It feels unfair to take the Full Brexit writers’ words seriously. But this is the argument they are making. If it sounds similar to a far-right argument, that’s surely not their fault.
The Full Brexit writers seem keen to frame Brexit as a working-class revolt – against both the EU and the stifling politically-correct regime of the “liberal left” as defined above. But is that what Brexit was? In their book Rule Britannia, Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson point out:
“Most people who voted Leave – by absolute numbers – lived in southern England. Furthermore, of all those who voted Leave, 59 per cent were middle class (often labelled as A, B or C1), and only 41 per cent were working class (labelled as C2, D or E). The proportion of Leave voters who were of the lowest two social classes (D and E) was just 24 per cent. One of us published these statistics not long after the vote, in the British Medical Journal, but that did little to quell the middle-class clamour to try to ‘blame the working class’.”
The Full Brexit take that “middle class clamour” to “blame the working class” and invert it. They take an expression of British nationalism, imperial nostalgia and hostility to immigration and absurdly slap some working-class credentials on it.
In a similar vein, another Full Brexit platform speaker, Paul Embery, raged on Twitter about Labour’s failure to come out strongly enough against freedom of movement: “Labour comes out in favour of keeping free movement - an utter betrayal of traditional working-class people, the majority of whom oppose it and voted to end it in the referendum.” But a November 2018 Survation poll of 20,000 people found a strong majority of all respondents in favour of a deal whereby “UK and EU citizens who wished to do so, could live and work in each other’s countries” – in other words, free movement.
Those earning less than £20,000 a year backed free movement 58% to 20%. The only demographic to oppose free movement, it turned out, were UKIP voters.
Elsewhere in their letter, the Full Brexit writers describe themselves as in favour of “popular sovereignty” to be extended to “all working people, regardless of their ethnic, sexual or other characteristics.”
But is their vision of Brexit about sovereignty for “working people”? Or for nations? Or just for Westminster? In a “Proposal” addressing the Irish border question, policy expert Christopher Bickerton (the first name listed among the supporters of the Full Brexit) writes a truly eye-popping paragraph:
“The potential threat of violence by tiny organisations, which represent a very small part of the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland, is being exploited to frustrate a decision made by the majority of the UK population as a whole. Behind the intransigence of Michel Barnier and Leo Varadkar we find potential threats from diehard republican grouplets, effectively recruited as the armed wing of the European Union.
"In London, we find a British political class that has been willing to send its armies on bloody adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is unwilling to face down even the slightest hint of violence closer to home to ensure that a democratic decision over the constitutional future of the UK can be implemented.”
In a short space of time we have gone from Brexit being a working-class revolt to railing against the treachery of a liberal elite who refuse to impose direct rule on Northern Ireland and go to war (against armed Republican groups who, TFB says, are really not Irish nationalists at all but proxy forces for the European Union).
A hard border is overwhelmingly unpopular with the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, and nationalist border communities in particular, who are no strangers to London’s troops or imperial arrogance. What do supporters of the Full Brexit make of those border communities? Are they the liberal left whom the EDL are right to hate? Should the British Army raid their homes to make sure they’re not sheltering EU gunmen?
Like the “Lexit” blowhards of the Morning Star or the Facebook page Red London (all noisy defenders of Dempsey) its political method relies on bluster, innuendo and misdirection. The great bulk of labour movement activists are painted up, in language borrowed from the far right, as the metropolitan elite.
The hatred of Tommy Robinson’s fans for ethnic minorities, the left and the labour movement is transformed into righteous working-class socialism. Middle-class leave voters in the Home Counties become proletarian internationalists. A concern for “popular sovereignty”, if you examine it closely enough, turns out to be a belief in the divine right of Westminster to override the wishes of Northern Irish border communities – backed up with armed force.
Is Dempsey a Robinson sympathiser, in his heart of hearts? Is Christopher Bickerton about to join the Paras to wage democratic people’s war on traitorous Catholics? Let's assume not. What matters politically is that, through conscious design or political confusion, they are reproducing the propaganda of the radical right, varnished with a thin sheen of left verbiage. At best they are rationalising the fear of opportunists in the face of rising reaction.
At worst, the Full Brexit is building a bridge from the left to the far right.
The Fire Brigades Union has asked its London region national executive member, (and “Full Brexit” statement signatory) Paul Embery, to suspend his social media activity and meet the committee to discuss the matter further.
He had tweeted contrasting "a rootless, cosmpolitan, bohemian middle class" to a "rooted, communitarian, patriotic working class".
Embery has previously tweeted that support for free movement betrays the "traditional working class" and spoken at a pro-Brexit demonstration organised by Nigel Farage, with a far-right audience.
We don't know what's going on in Embery's head, or much about his wider views on antisemitism. But his claims that "rootless" and "cosmopolitan" are "everyday adjectives" (another tweet) and that he didn't know the history of the phrase (used as a synonym for "Jew" by Stalin in his antisemitic "anti-Zionist" drive after 1949) are implausible.
In any case, talk about "rootless, cosmpolitan" forces opposed to the "rooted... patriotic working class" plays both to the Stalinist-influenced pro-Brexit left and to elements of the far right.