Brewing hesitation over Brexit
Leader of Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn witnesses resistance and fractures from within, writes Arun Srivastava
With British Prime Minister Theresa May unable to effectively handle the Brexit issue and the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn emerging as the most favoured candidate for the top job; a section of the Labour leaders who are opposed to Corbyn's entry into the office of the prime minister have launched a sinister campaign against him. They have been creating the impression that the core support group of the party and its voters have been opposed to the party's current stance on Brexit. They are, in fact, in league with the Tories to stop the ascendancy of Corbyn. They also supported a survey, which interestingly found 32 per cent of Labour "remain" voters believe Labour is "completely against Brexit" and a further 31 percent of Labour "leave" voters believe Labour is "completely in favour of Brexit".
No doubt major differences had surfaced inside Labour in 2016, when the referendum was held to assess the mood of Britons on Brexit. But, even at that stage, no one challenged Corbyn on this particular issue while he did not come out with a clear stand. He had looked at it from the capitalist manoeuvring perspective. According to Mark Malloch Brown, a crossbench peer and chair of Best for Britain, "This data shows, clearly, that many more remainers are likely to abandon Labour over its Brexit line than the leavers. Labour did so well in the election off the back of pro-European voters tactically voting for them. All that could be at risk if this policy, a calculated policy of ambiguity, continues." He is a bundle of confusion. While he appreciates the voters' response, he expresses apprehensions. He did not spell out the reasons for his trepidation.
In the backdrop of this bogey, at least seventy Labour councillors from south London have called on Jeremy Corbyn to be open to giving voters another say on Brexit. In an open letter, the councillors from Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth wrote: "The contradictions inherent in the Brexit project itself should concern the Labour Party far more than has been the case up to now. Labour should be open on the mechanism by which voters have their say but the party must be clear that the electorate's role in this process did not end on June 23, 2016."
Yes, political actions and lines always need corrections. The developments of the past one year make it abundantly clear that Britons have begun the process of lending a second thought to their Brexit stand. A demand has also been made to rescind the verdict. In fact, from the very beginning, the party's official position has been that Britain should stay in the single market during the transition out of the EU, but it has left most of the issues about the terms of the UK's future trading relationship with the EU "on the table" for negotiation.
Little doubt then that Labour should provide the opportunity to the people to change their decision. This would be perceived as an act of maturity and principled leadership that the country so desperately needs. Labour needs to move from ambiguity over Brexit in 2017 to clarity in 2018. One thing Labour must do: come out with a clear political and ideological line. There is no denying that in the present situation the party is also in a state of confusion. If Labour does not act fast, it will inflict damage to its political credibility. The Labour leadership cannot deny that on issues of contemporary politics, different sections of people are receiving different messages from the leadership. If people come to believe that there has been a deliberate ambiguity in the approach of the leadership that would prove to be counterproductive.
Since the Brexit issue has come to be directly related to the sovereignty of the country, the Labour leadership must come clear. It is significant in the poll, 63 per cent of self-identified Labour supporters say they would be "delighted or pleased" if Labour said it would stop Brexit and stay in the European Union. By contrast, only 22 per cent supporters said they would be delighted or pleased if Labour said it would proceed with Brexit and ensure the UK leaves the EU.
March 2019 is the d-date by which the complex issues involving Britain's divorce from the EU need to be resolved. In fact, the issue has to be finalised at least six months ahead of this cut off line. It will take at least six months for the European Parliament and the EU's 28 members to ratify any agreement. It is really sad that the Conservatives themselves are split on what they want. While one faction is pressing for a "hard Brexit" that abandons the single market, the advocates of the "soft Brexit" faction would accept EU regulations and the Court of Justice, because they are afraid that bailing out of the single market will damage the British economy.
It is a known secret that talks between Britain and the EU are not making any significant progress. The primary reason is that the EU is not sure if May can deliver or whether the present government will continue to rule Britain till the next general elections in 2022. With Labour on the ascendency, EU members are in no rush to settle things. It appears that Corbyn is correct in his estimate that it is not Britain's exit from EU but the anger at the growing inequality, increasing job insecurity, a housing crisis and EU strictures that have turned economic strategy over to unelected bureaucrats and banks.
It is the inability of May to effectively face the crisis that has turned the British insecure. For them, at this stage, preserving and protecting the interest of Britain is uppermost in their minds. Basically, this has been the reason that some people have approached Corbyn to come forward and protect the country through counselling Labour supporters and cadres. In fact, this underlines the faith the people have in Corbyn. The people of Britain desperately need a strong and united team to negotiate a Brexit that serves their interests. The Tories cannot provide it. Labour can, but it will have to distinguish between access to the EU single market and submission to that market's pro-big business rules and institutions. The UK wants to talk about future trade relations and a plan for a two-year "transition" period to smooth the way to post-Brexit relations. But, the EU says they will not talk about the future until enough progress has been made on other issues.
Shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, had announced in August that his Labour party wanted to keep the UK in the single market with a customs union during the transition that could last for up to four years. Labour would also accept the free movement of people, payments into the EU budget and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during the transition. The single market is seen as the EU's biggest achievement. Britain was a member of a free trade area in Europe before it joined what was then known as the common market. The European Union single market, which was completed in 1992, allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the European Union, as if it was a single country.
Those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU say it got a big boost from the membership. They hold that Britain's status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that the country is more secure as a part of the 28 nation club, rather than going on alone.
If Labour is ever to return to power, it must capture another 64 seats in the Parliament; that requires a 3.6 per cent swing away from the Conservatives. Preaching to middle-class liberals will not be enough, since almost all of the 64 most winnable constituencies contain a high concentration of Brexit-supporting voters. Corbyn has to strive hard and dispel any misconception amongst the voters, especially the youth, his new support base, about his role as well as the party's position on Brexit. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)