Originally posted to Facebook in March 2017 and edited (including the comments of others) into a semi-coherent stand-alone piece.
In March 2017, Theresa May passed the legislation necessary to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and commence Britain’s exit from the European Union.
This has been a long time coming and there have been many efforts to soften what has been sharping up in Theresa May’s hands to be a very hard Brexit – crashing out of the customs union, the Single Market, and and the four freedoms. Lord Hain tabled an amendment in the Lords to require the Government to negotiate to remain in the Single Market, but Jeremy Corbyn whipped his peers to vote against.
The amendment was defeated by 299 votes to 136.
As Politics.co.uk put it,
“This was not a vote on whether to activate Article 50. Corbyn couldn’t use any of his excuses about not being seen to stand in the way of the vote. This was an amendment to the bill, one which would have insisted that May pursues an exit from the EU which puts the fewest possible jobs and standards at risk. By whipping his peers against it, Corbyn worked with the government to make sure it did not pass.”
Lord Hain, who tabled the amendment, told peers that Corbyn would be judged by history to be on the wrong side of the argument “by forcing us in the Labour party to do something that we do not actually believe in”.”
At that point, I began to fall out of love with Jeremy Corbyn.
Let’s be clear, Jeremy Corbyn is far more euroskeptic than I am. He hails from the euroskeptic wing of the Labour Party and he has always wanted to leave the EU and the single market because he thinks it’s bad for British worker rights. He agreed with Tony Benn. That’s why people were so skeptical when he was campaigning for Remain, and I believe that’s why he did little to mobilise the Labour Party against Brexit since the vote came in. Tellingly, he decided to whip Labour peers against the single market amendment but not the EU residency amendment.
Jeremy Corbyn stopped an amendment that would oblige the Government to pursue single market membership. He did this in opposition to most Remain factions in his party and a majority of the British public polled. He thinks that the EU is a corrupt neoliberal project and he has campaigned against every referendum and treaty until this one. Since the referendum, he has placidly and tactly accepted without challenge the position of the government to accept a hard Brexit even as his counterparts in Wales, Scotland and London are pursuing a wide variety of tactics which do not include whipping their MPs for vote with the government. The outcome of his actions has been to align his political positions with people on the right who also just want to burn everything down to the despair of the most of his MPs who voted Remain.
I voted leave because I believe that the EU democratic deficit is intentional and deepening, and in the knowledge that with half the country and nearly all of the wealthy people who fund the Tories voting Remain, I also believed the negotiations that followed would ensure that all the nationalist bonkers from David Davis and Liam Fox about how all over countries would fall at our feet to hand us advantageous trade deals while keeping their citizens firmly outside our borders would be kept at bay.
Then Jeremy Corbyn whipped all of his MPs and then his peers to ensure that we go crashing out of the common market, the customs union and dump freedom of movement with the worst imaginable of all worlds.
Indeed, beyond imagination. I follow the Irish media and I don’t think many have even begun to consider what putting up border controls is going to do to Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations and economy.
And what for? So our Tory media won’t be so mean to him anymore when he actually had a meaningful opportunity to affect politics in this country?
The above was written in March. It is now June.
It remains to be seen whether this approach will be vindicated. As I edit this, we are in the final days of an election that no-one expected or anticipated and which was called clearly for the purpose of taking full advantage of a perceived Conservative dominance on Brexit which would sweep all before it. That perception has evaporated into thin air thanks to a disastrous Tory manifesto launch, a successful Labour campaign focussed on social issues, the revelation to millions that Jeremy Corbyn is not a Marxist guerilla but a guy with an allotment and entertaining side-eye, and three terror attacks in three months raising some serious questions about the competence of a Prime Minister (and Home Secretary before that) who cut the police by 20,000 and seems almost completely paralysed unable to defend her own ideas in the media. Brexit has barely made an appearance to the great dismay of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, both of whom bet the house on their strategies for Brexit and which have near totally fallen apart.
This is not where I thought we would be in June 2017.
Corbyn’s decision therefore seemed idiotic to me at the time but if he actually manages to win the election, then it doesn’t matter – the Labour Party has committed to retaining membership of the Single Market. If he does win, or lose very narrowly, I see an argument to be made in hindsight that he would never have run the Tories so close if he hadn’t taken everything off the table and just said, “Whatever”. I am intellectually honest enough to admit that here and now.
But if Tories are returned with a greater majority, then we’ve given a triumphant Tory government a free pass to do whatever they like and only other Tories will be able to stop them. I think I’m less angry with Jeremy Corbyn now than I was in March because I recognise that at the end of the day, it was a tough call, but still – I’m not convinced that voting against the Hain amendment was good for the country even if it was for the Labour Party.
Comment: “Would it have actually been possible for the UK to stay in the single market without having to accept all the terrible pro-free-market aspects of the EU which motivated the Lexit campaign?”
I don’t know. All of the discourse around the referendum within Britain has focussed exclusively on what was best for Britain and British workers and it just seems too small. I thought that by leaving the EU it would return UK sovereignty to Parliament where it belongs but it would also knock Europe into realising that if you’re going to create a European superstate then you should damn well have some public buy-in to that agenda.
I came to realise that my worldview was just as parochial in the immediate aftermath of the referendum and faced defending my position to some very angry Remainers, I’ve been reading a daily email about general trends in European politics since. Both Brexit and other popular referenda that brought back negative results for the European project in other EU countries seem to have prompted some soul-searching in influential quarters so I feel satisfied that Brexit will ultimately benefit the democratic process for other citizens.
But in terms of the economic future, we just aren’t going to function by ourselves with individual trade deals with individual nations, just because the inexorable trend is towards huge trading blocs with a common economic and trade policy and it seems to me that we simply don’t have a choice about participating. Because you don’t just have the USA and the EU: the African Union is based on the EU and they have all 55 African states signed up and they’re planning to have a common currency by 2023. The Eurasian Economic Union was formally launched in 2015 with a view to achieving freedom of movement across the former Soviet republics and Russia.
With all that going on, the idea that we’re going to just have our little fishing waters to ourselves and everyone’s going to come over here and give all their money to our financial sector while never setting their foreign foot on good British soil and then going back to their huge economically integrated trading zones just seems utterly parochial in scope.
The issue of how are we possibly going to maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland when Ireland has total freedom of movement for all EU citizens is a perfect example of that in a nutshell – it doesn’t matter what I want or what Ireland wants if their entire economic future is bound up in their trading bloc of which we will no longer be a part. Borders will go up. I can’t see how this trend towards regional supranational unions committed to neoliberal economics can be stopped, whatever we vote for internally.
Comment: “Brexit means Brexit. You voted for it. You’re getting it. Enjoy the ride now.”
I voted for it, I don’t regret it, and I’d do it again tomorrow.
But just as the Remain campaign was made up of people who support a federal european state and people who were happy with the status quo, and people who advocated some weird nebulous sort of “reform” and people who were suckered in by those people, the Leave campaign was also considerably varied in what exactly they wanted leaving to look like. Daniel Hannan MEP spent his entire political career campaigning for a referendum and for a Leave vote, he almost single handedly kept that campaign alive through the early 2000s; and he supports British membership of the single market.
It’s UKIP who want to act like there was only one way forward and it was UKIP’s agenda that Theresa May adopted and it’s UKIP’s interests that you serve if you promote the idea that only hard Brexit represents the public interest. 74% of the public support British membership of the single market. I am in the majority, then and now.
Honestly, British relations with Europe is just slightly more nuanced than “all in” without criticism or “all out” and draw up the drawbridge. Theresa May’s strategy of repeating “Brexit means Brexit” appears to have worked, in the sense that I have genuinely struggled in the last year to persuade people that there’s a far great conversation to be had here than what UKIP and the Daily Mail would have you believe. It baffles me. How can people accurately analyze that we have a hugely biased media towards right wing populist narratives and then proceed to propagate that same right wing populist narrative as if it’s fact?
In the run-up to the referendum, there was actually a national conversation going on about what leaving the European Union could look like – there was “hard Brexit”, “the Norway option”, “the Swiss option”, and “Canada” and a bunch of smaller ones, all of the conversations around which accepted that what people voted for was a very general principle, the details of which was devilish and would require serious thought and dialogue.
It was UKIP who didn’t want to have serious thought and dialogue, and it was UKIP who tried to shut all the people who tried down, and it was UKIP who framed the Brexit debate as “burn it down or you’re an enemy of the people”. Brexit was always vastly more complicated than that. A substantial number of Remain voters have just given up on things like “reading” and “paying attention” and are just telling me to own what I’ve done when I’m doing just that.
Comment: “Its worth noting that a possible reason why Theresa May has gone quite so much to the right on this issue (the hardline Eurosceptic Tory, almost UKIP line) is because she feels no pressure from the other side because Corbyn, and thus Labour, are so weak. All the pressure is coming from one side only (in Parliament, anyway).
The sovereignty argument never held that much to me as I felt a) we made a choice as a sovereign nation to join and take part, but more so b) total sovereignty is pretty much a myth now, has been in many ways signs the Second World War, and thats actually probably a good thing.
Supranational jurisdictions could well be part of how things progress, or at least change, in civilizations, irrespective of whether for better for worse – how much choice did the regions or counties of any country really have over becoming part of something bigger?”
I don’t know what Theresa May wants or what she’s got in mind. It’s also entirely plausible that she was just overwhelmed at the complexity of pulling apart the thousands of issues involved in leaving in two years – I was reading an article the other day about the impact of Brexit on our commitments under the Outer Space Treaty (because we’ll be partially liable for satellites the EU put up there while we were members). SPACE. Who thought about how Brexit would affect *SPACE* when they went to the polling booth? Not to say that that was a reason not to vote leave but still.
Re sovereignty: democracy is not just a vote every four years but an ongoing conversation between the government and the governed. We voted in 1972 only to join the European Community and then suddenly forty years later Tony Blair was stopped from taking us into the euro only off the back of Gordon Brown’s intransigence (and a good thing that was too looking at what has been happening to eurozone countries that aren’t Germany).
The European project is built out of a labyrinthean mass of institutions almost impossible to comprehend or influence as a citizen and while I will concede that part of that was a result of ad hoc development over time, some of it was quite deliberate. The European Commission was set up as an undemocratic body totally insulated from public opinion so it can take decisions that national politicans wouldn’t dare for fear of their electorate but can just shove onto the Commission and hold up their hands say, “wasn’t me guv!” I’m not kidding, Juncker so annoyed about it he’s trying to change the rules to force more national governments to own their actions:
Re supranational jurisdictions, I think it’s the ultimate destiny of humanity that we are going to end up under a single world government, whatever the economic system. Once you remove monarchies and potentates making war on each other, and nations are run as liberal democracies in the ostensible interest of their citizens, there’s just no particularly good reason for any community, area, region, to stand by itself and maintain its own administration and borders totally separate to its neighbours. Confederation of some kind just occurs, and we’re at a point in history where that is currently manifesting in economic and social integration among these trading blocs. Eventually when that process is complete and everyone’s of a similar level of development, it just won’t really make sense not to not just join them together too.
I just don’t see how if I believe in no borders, I can really object to that as a concept. What troubles me is the part where all of this, certainly within the EU, is happening with almost no regard for a democratic conversation between the government and the government over what this process should look like, how the negative impacts on certain communities can be mitigated, do we really want a European army, whose interests is this union really serving when the ALDC Group leader is also the director of a bank, etc etc. They’re just trying to buy off some sectors and silence others and generally just present the idea of a political union as some sort of fait accompli. That’s what I object to.
Comment: “Why is the Single Market so important? It’s just another took of capitalism.”
If we’re talking from a paradigm of revolutionary politics, then nothing of what I have written is in any way relevant because all we have to do is mobilise the working class to seize the means of production and then full luxury automated communism will just happen and everything will be fine.
But within the context of states and capitalism and Britain as it exists a a constitutional monarchy right now, remaining part of the single market works for nearly every problem that Brexit is throwing up. It retains the right to freedom of movement for British expats and EU citizens resident in Britain, it prevents us from setting up border controls with Ireland, it lets British people go on holiday to Spain without a passport and it means we get to sell all our shit to Europe without tariffs. 90% of our abattoir vets are Spanish, 15% of the NHS workforce are EU citizens, I like having mobile roaming charges banned. I think I can live with that in return for being told what colour my fire extinguishers have to be.
There’s stuff about the single market that is very bad, because capitalism. But as we’re not going to be establishing socialism in one country from 2019, I don’t see how advantageous our sovereign trade deal with Australia is going to be over single market membership.