Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is walking a tightrope on Brexit – he’s promised a second referendum, but is also willing to leave the European Union.
If Labour wins the next general election their referendum will offer a choice between “remain” and a “credible leave option”, negotiated by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, and his team in Brussels.
Some of Corbyn’s closest allies, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have said that they will campaign wholeheartedly for remain. This is despite Corbyn saying he will remain neutral during the new referendum campaign, seeking to make Labour an open political home for remainers and leavers alike. The motion became policy last Monday at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, after a close run vote amongst the party’s members.
The new strategy has had its critics. Some argue that attempts to toe the line between remain and leave is an exercise in futility. Many have made the point that going back to Brussels to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, whilst at the same time saying you want a second referendum and to remain, completely undermines the UK’s negotiating position.
For example, surging youth politics group Our Future Our Choice – who believe the UK should remain in the EU – marched at the Labour conference last weekend. They argue that Labour’s policy on Europe needs to go even further, pushing for the leadership to unabashedly embrace remain.
Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats have taken a more extreme and, in my opinion, quite ludicrous step entirely. They are proposing to revoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty outright. This would mean reversing the legislation, saying that the UK is obliged to leave the European Union, without any democratic mandate from the people. In pursuing such a move, the Lib Dems would be riding roughshod over their party’s so-called “democratic” disposition, and the country’s democratic principles at large.
Put this into context with PM Boris Johnson’s pandering to the no-deal fanatics in his own ranks. The Yellowhammer report on the consequences of no-deal has revealed the potential for “social murder” – a phrase originally coined by Friedrich Engels to describe how the actions of the ruling elite cause premature deaths. In an unprecedented, Kafkaesque move, the government is now actually stockpiling body bags. That’s not something I’d expect to be talking about in the fifth biggest economy on the planet, but then again this is the Conservative Party – a gang of political vandals I wouldn’t entrust with organising a child’s birthday party, never mind the entire country.
Labour’s position, unlike the other parties, has historical precedent – something vital to our (unwritten) constitution. Harold Wilson, former leader of the Labour party and Prime Minister on two separate occasions in the 60s and 70s, famously remained neutral during the 1975 referendum on Europe. Wilson neither campaigned for or against his own renegotiated deal – the UK remaining in the common market – therefore making him an effective neutral broker for people on both sides of the argument.
Out of the quagmire and doom of the conduct of the Lib Dems and the Tories comes Labour. In this situation they appear the most sensible, pragmatic, and inclusive. They are looking to draw across the hugely divided social strata of the UK with their strategy, rather than feeding half of the population to the baying dogs of no-deal and revoke.
Remember, when this generational debate on Europe is finally over, we have to live together as a country. The only way this can be achieved is through a government that values compromise and the country at large. Arguably, the only adults in the room with the vision to achieve this are members of the Labour party.