Stop Brexit!  Time for the Labour majority to stand up and be counted

With the perverse and wrong-headed decision to sack three of his shadow ministers, and to accept the resignations of two more, for the offence of voting for Chuka Umunna’s amendment favouring Britain’s continued membership of the EU single market and customs union, Jeremy Corbyn has virtually completed his project of reversing the Labour party’s official policy, endorsed unanimously by the 2016 party conference,  of keeping open the option of staying in the EU.  This abandonment of the party’s considered policy, and of the country’s interests, was clearly signalled by the leader’s equally perverse decision to order his parliamentary colleagues to vote with the Tories for Theresa May to trigger article 50 last March, also in blatant defiance of agreed Labour policy.

By imposing a three-line whip on mostly reluctant Labour MPs, Mr Corbyn has effectively reversed the party’s formal stance at the time of the EU referendum, according to which Britain’s best interests are served by remaining a full member of the EU, substituting his own antiquated and far-fetched view of the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. Recent reports and articles on show that by doing so he risks alienating the substantial pro-Remain majority of the under-45s who flocked to support Labour generally, and Corbyn in particular, at the June 2017 election.  A majority of all MPs and peers, including a majority of Labour parliamentarians, know that leaving the EU will severely damage the living standards of ordinary working people, destroy jobs, raise the cost of living, According to this will  sharply reduce our ability to trade on preferential terms with our closest partners and friends, damage the protection afforded by the EU’s clout against the power of the great multi-national corporations to exploit us, wreck Britain’s international influence and standing, limit the freedom of Brits to travel and live freely throughout our own continent, and invite the incredulous mirth of the rest of the world over our inexplicable folly. And all because of the reckless misinterpretation of a purely advisory, non-mandatory referendum which revealed only that opinion in the UK was, and probably still is, almost equally divided between those in favour of our membership of the EU and those against.

Had Corbyn campaigned with the rest of his party against leaving the EU with even half of the flair and charisma he displayed in fighting the election campaign in June, the referendum result would almost certainly have been different, and Brexit would now be just a bad dream.  History will judge Corbyn to have been almost as guilty as May and David Cameron of the self-harming folly that is driving our country to disaster. Britain desperately needs a major political party or movement willing to commit itself to stopping Brexit in its tracks, while there is still time. This ought to have been Labour’s role and destiny.

As the Brexit negotiations increasingly reveal the harm that our departure will inflict on us all, the need for a party dedicated to opposing it will become increasingly apparent. If Corbyn continues to use his leadership role to prevent Labour from accepting the obligation that history has imposed on it, the only alternative will be the creation of a new cross-party movement — not necessarily a new party — to do the job that Labour ought to be doing. 

Umunna seems to understand this, as his amendment shows; so do the rest of the 49 Labour MPs who voted for it; so do the rest of the majority in the parliamentary Labour party who were too timid – the politest word – to defy the whips by voting for what they know to be right, whatever the short-term electoral consequences.


President Macron has shown that it’s possible. Our clapped-out electoral system makes it much harder, but it’s not too late to make the effort. Let the adult majority in the PLP find the spinal fortitude to stand up and make it happen. They may find it attracts more support across all the political parties than they think possible. Their allegiance must be to the interests of the country, to all their constituents – not just their local party activists – and to their own judgement and consciences, not to Corbyn’s whips and certainly not to his mistaken and out-dated view of the greatest issue facing us.

Chuka has opened the door a chink: now is the time to open it wide and push through it. Ye are many, JC represents the few!

NoteThis article first appeared as a post on the website LabourList under the title ‘If Corbyn won’t stop Brexit then it is time for the rest of Labour to fight for the EU’, at where it has so far prompted more than 100 comments, mostly (but not all) hostile.

5 July 2017


4 Responses

  1. Peter Martin says:

    “substituting his own antiquated and far-fetched view of the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. “

    Is this a fair representation of Jeremy Corbyn’s views? He did campaign for the Remain side after all.

    It’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Labour Party, even under Jeremy Corbyn,  is anti-capitalist. The consensus in the party now is that capitalism is an unstable system and isn’t always self correcting. We need a mixed economy with a significant level of of government involvement to regulate it correctly.

    This does mark a return to the traditional principles of the Labour Party and a rejection of the policies pursued by so-called New Labour. But it doesn’t make the Labour Party a party of revolution.

    It is quite possible, from a left perspective, but not so far left as to reject capitalism completely, to come to the view that EU membership is not in Britain’s interests. The EU is interventionist enough itself. But what if the EU increasingly intervenes to outlaw the kind of economics necessary to stabilise the capitalist system? The issue of the renationalisation of the railways is a grey area. Keynesian economics is effectively banned in all countries apart from the UK.

    The ‘ordoliberal’ economics imposed instead induce a tendency to recession in the EU27. The only antidote is to adopt mercantilism as national policy. ie The running of large export surpluses. But not everyone can run a surplus! The alternative is to be in deep recession.

    So, either way, the EU is not a good market for UK exports. The poor economies of the EU create the conditions of asymmetric migration patterns.  There’s arguments to be made either way on the EU,  but we don’t have to be on the extremes of left or right to conclude that the UK is better off being out.

  2. David Campbell says:

    Our newly elected Labour MP,  Martin Whitfield, put his name to the Chuka Umunna amendment. For what it’s worth, I’ve told him I applaud his decision; and have urged him to go the extra mile and use his influence to reverse Brexit altogether. Whether he will be that resolute after his baptism of fire is another matter. Politically, Whitfield is still wet behind the ears (a schoolmaster before winning the seat from the SNP). The East Lothian Labour Party may well stiffen his backbone. They are a close-knit bunch, extremely unhappy with Corbyn’s leadership. But they have very little idea of an alternative vision for the Party in Scotland.

  3. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply: Thank you, Martin. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that the Labour party itself is “anti-capitalist”, although some of its most active, or activist, members certainly are. I have no doubt at all that if pressed in private, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would confess to (or boast of) being anti-capitalist, the latter on a more sophisticated basis than the former, probably. I think that it’s only recently that the two of them have become interested in (or recognised a possibility of) the Labour party under its current leadership winning a general election and forming a government. I doubt if either has a very clear idea of what to do with it if this were to happen. Their Leninist handlers and advisers would no doubt want to seize the opportunity to turn Britain into an embryo one-party “socialist” state. I suspect that McDonnell would approve that as a long-term objective but one to be approached slowly and circumspectly, one step at a time — like the objective of converting the Labour party into a hard-left protest movement. But all this is pretty idle speculation, when the overwhelmingly important issue facing Labour and the country is how to stop Brexit.

    On the future of the EU, I don’t share your pessimism about the capacity of the EU (with or without the UK as a member) for “stabilising capitalism” in the medium or even the short term. Changes of policy will certainly be required, and the continued membership of a generally pragmatic Britain would surely help to secure acceptance of the need for those changes. Few well informed observers now predict the collapse in the foreseeable future of either the EU as a whole or of the Eurozone, as confidently expected only a few months ago. This rat seems to be bent on leaving a safe and prosperous ship, not a sinking one after all. Even the Greeks don’t have any interest in following us overboard. The wide ocean is a lonely, dangerous place.

  4. Brian says:

    Thanks for this, David. I too am lucky enough to be represented in parliament by an excellent and independent minded new Labour MP (she won Sadiq Khan’s old seat in a by-election very shortly before the general election) who also had the courage to vote against the absurd and ill-judged trigger of Article 50 and whose campaign literature was a Corbyn-free zone. And she hugely increased her majority, despite the seat being one of those targeted by the Tories. If only a well-regarded Labour MP, supported by one of the adults on the Tory back benches, would raise the standard of revolt against the supinely Euro-sceptic, pro-Brexit leaders of both our main political parties, and come out loud and clear for abandoning Brexit with the backing of a second referendum, I have no doubt that both our MPs would give him or her their enthusiastic support. If only!