As we go to press on 24 September, the Supreme Court has ruled Boris Johnson's shutdown (“prorogation”) of Parliament unlawful and invalid.
Parliament will reconvene on 25 September. In fact, since the Court decision was the shutdown was “of no effect”, strictly speaking Parliament is resuming a session which was never validly suspended.
Boris Johnson has been pushed back again. But he still says he may shut down Parliament again.
He still “refuses to accept that the Benn Act made a no-deal Brexit on 31 October impossible”, though it does exactly that, no more, no less.
Journalists in the USA put to him that the law would not allow a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. According to the Guardian, he replied:
“As the law stands, we leave on October 31”.
Labour in Parliament must force the government to comply with the Benn Act and get a Brexit extension to avoid “no deal.”
Labour in the country must fight the Tories in the general election bound to come soon.
The farcical decision at Labour’s Brighton conference to declare a sort of neutrality on Brexit until after the general election weakens us.
Labour for a Socialist Europe will help local Labour Parties and activists overcome that obstacle by fighting for Remain and for socialist policies.
Labour activists and local Labour Parties need to start now with campaigning for Labour, for Remain, for socialist policies.
It is good that Labour is clearly offering a new public vote on Brexit — Remain versus the realities of Leave, not versus the vague demagogy of 2016.
But the decision on 23 September by the Brighton Labour conference for Labour to have a sort of “neutral” stance on Brexit until after the coming general election, and only then call a special conference to decide, is unprincipled and nonsensical.
It will be very hard for the central Labour machine to enforce that line in local campaigns. Many leading Labour Party people have repeatedly gone on public record that they will vote Remain in any new public vote. No Labour leader has made any argument that Labour was wrong to back Remain in 2016.
John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, and Keir Starmer have all said they will back Remain.
At a fringe meeting in Brighton, Starmer, the shadow minister for exiting the EU, has declared: “I’ve said for some time, over and over again, I would campaign for Remain so obviously I’m disappointed by the [conference] result”.
But, he added, he saw it as “highly likely” the party would decide to become explicitly pro-Remain at the planned special conference. “It’s obvious the way this is going to end up”.
Labour for a Socialist Europe, an autonomous campaign group launched from the Another Europe Is Possible conference in December 2018, produced distinctive pro-Remain left-wing leaflets for the Euro-elections in May 2019.
Local Labour Parties and activists took tens of thousands of them to distribute. It was a bigger effort to create a distinctive left-wing voice within an overall Labour campaign for many years, since the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory in 1979.
Since 1979, in general, central control over the running of Labour election campaigns has become tighter and tighter. It was looser in May 2019 because the central Labour machine paid little attention to the election. It may be looser in the coming general election because the central “line” is so contradictory, and so publicly disputed by leading Labour people, that it will be hard to enforce.
In any case, our duty is to maximise the possibilities to let the electorate hear clear, coherent working-class ideas.
We can start now by getting out on the streets with stalls and leafleting.
Sorted in six months?
The National Executive Committee statement on Brexit adopted by the Labour conference in Brighton does not make sense.
“A Labour government”, it says, “will get Brexit sorted one way or another within six months of coming to power, allowing us to concentrate on all the issues that matter to people most.
“A Labour Government would secure a sensible leave deal with the EU within three months, and within six months would put it before the people in a referendum alongside the option to remain”.
“Labour’s leave deal would include a new UK-EU customs union, a close relationship with the Single Market, protections of the Good Friday Agreement with no hard border, securing the permanent rights of three million EU nationals in the UK and one million UK nationals in Europe, guarantees of workers’ rights and environmental protections, and membership of key bodies to ensure joint co- operation in areas like climate change, counter-terrorism and medicines”.
The list of desirable things to be included does not include free movement of people across the UK-EU border, which Jeremy Corbyn defended from June 2016 through to November 2016, when he finally capitulated to pressure from the Labour right (and nationalist would-be left) on that issue.
In any case, is this new withdrawal agreement to be one with a transition period of two years or so, like Theresa May's?
Until now, almost every Brexiter bar Boris Johnson and the Tory ultra-right has agreed that such a transition period is necessary to avoid chaos.
That transition period, like May's, would leave most details of future UK-EU relations to be sorted out over the two years or so of its duration. They would not be “sorted one way or another within six months”.
Or is this Brexit deal supposed to be one without a transition period? So within three months all the details of “a new UK-EU customs union” and “a close relationship with the Single Market” could be done and dusted? Hardly likely, when the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, a much more low-key affair, took eight years to negotiate and agree, and still is not completely in force.
Could Labour cut things short through a more “off-the-shelf” approach, having Britain stay in the actually-existing Customs Union and the actually-existing Single Market rather than trying to negotiate new ones?
Possibly, though hardly in three months without any transition period. But that would mean accepting free movement (good). It would also mean accepting all the rules of the Single Market, including the neoliberal ones which Lexiters (“left-Brexiters”) make so much noise about. And, crucially, at the same time cutting off the British labour movement from the Europe-wide process and struggles to change those rules!
It would be a deal repulsive to both Leavers and Remainers.