If Labour goes into the next election on a platform of continued subjection to the EU, it will make a nonsense of the progressive policies in its manifesto, says ROBERT GRIFFITHS
THE chances of this Tory government limping all the way to a general election in 2022 are almost nil.
It is are divided on the EU, the NHS, civil liberties and even the 1 per cent public-sector pay cap.
It is dependent on the Ulster Loyalist DUP for a majority in the House of Commons. That’s like being rescued by a knight on a white charger who’s one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Millions of people have had enough of austerity. They need and want a pay rise or a boost to their pensions or benefits. They are deeply concerned about the NHS and have no idea how their children or grandchildren are going to be able to afford a college education or a home of their own.
There is a whiff of inevitability about a Labour government headed by Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.
But there’s also an elephant in the room which could go on the rampage and wreck everything, unless the labour movement exercises unity and discipline informed by a clear class-based analysis.
The question of Britain’s membership of the EU will either bring down the Tories, or unite public opinion behind them because Labour’s position is hopelessly confused, if not downright wrong.
First, the message must go out to all Labour MPs and to any maverick trade union leaders: the decision of the majority of voters to leave the EU must be sincerely respected — which can only mean that it must be implemented.
Britain must leave the EU, which means leaving the European single market and the European customs union.
A post-exit “transitional agreement” which maintains subjection to EU single market rules, the anti-worker EU or EFTA Courts of Justice and EU budget contributions is no transition at all.
It is a prolongation of EU membership under another name, a “breathing space” during which powerful pro-EU forces will continue to try to reverse Brexit.
Monopoly capitalist corporations would remain free to export capital and jobs to anywhere in the EU and across much of the world.
Britain would remain powerless to regulate imports or negotiate international trade agreements. EU rules would continue to hamstring central, devolved and local government in vital matters of finance, planning and procurement.
Membership of the European Economic Area as a member of EFTA would make these or similar “transitional” arrangements permanent. So, too, would any post-exit customs union or free trade agreement between Britain and the EU that accepts similar terms and conditions.
The people of Britain are not as stupid as many of the Remain campaigners thought they were in last year’s referendum campaign. They will see such manoeuvres for what they are — a betrayal of popular sovereignty, engineered by pro-EU Tories (including Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond) in cahoots with big business, Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson and the EU Commission itself.
Millions of working-class electors will punish Labour for going back on its 2017 general election manifesto pledge to leave the EU and the single market.
Labour’s credibility is already being damaged by Brexit spokesperson Keir Starmer’s declaration that Labour will support the worst kind of transitional arrangements for up to four years.
It was no coincidence that the morning after Starmer’s announcement on August 27, it was welcomed by business leaders, EU officials and an editorial in the Financial Times alongside a feature article by former EU Commissioner Mandelson.
More recently, in an FT interview on September 7, Starmer said he would accept a “transitional” agreement that keeps Britain in the European customs union indefinitely, as a “viable end option.”
Of course, it should be remembered why a section of the EU supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party are such diehards. It’s because they are true believers in the capitalist free market fundamentalism of the EU. Most share the same dedication to nuclear weapons and Nato.
They oppose the leadership of Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell because they oppose public ownership, economic planning, the radical redistribution of wealth and socialism.
They understand full well that membership of the European Economic Area, with its subjection to the EU Court of Justice or its EFTA puppet, would obstruct the kind of policies that won Labour millions of extra votes in June’s general election: public ownership of the railways, water and energy; a national investment bank and “people’s quantitative easing” to enhance our public services; reform of VAT; progressive public-sector procurement contracts; and legislation to stop the super-exploitation of migrant workers.
Yet these are the kind of policies which — together with a wholehearted commitment to federalism — will win the next general election for the Labour Party and the whole labour movement.
But not if Labour goes into that election on a platform of continued subjection to the EU, making nonsense of any left and progressive policies in the party’s manifesto.
That’s why the Communist Party and Lexit: the Left Leave Campaign are active at this year’s TUC Congress, alerting the labour movement to the prize that is within our grasp — and to the danger that continued confusion on the EU will allow it to slip through our fingers.
There are other alternatives to EU rules and diktats.
Britain is already a member of more than 70 other European and international agencies of every kind, already conducting the majority of its trade with the rest of the world. Leaving the EU could strengthen those international relations, as we take a seat at the World Trade Organisation and negotiate new agreements that reflect an independent foreign policy based on mutual benefit and solidarity.
The Communist Party has never accepted the defeatism that said Britain would never again elect a Labour government, that the Labour Party could not be reclaimed for left policies, that privatisation could not be reversed, that the majority of voters would not reject EU membership and that Jeremy Corbyn and left policies would be an electoral disaster.
Nor do we accept the defeatism which today says that Britain cannot thrive outside the big business EU, that the onward march of capitalist globalisation is inevitable, that the people will never accept a nuclear-free and non-Nato defence policy for Britain — and that they will never elect a left-wing government.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto