Labour must provide a positive post-Brexit vision or be damned by workers

Labour must provide a positive post-Brexit vision or be damned by workers

Labour’s vote against the EU Withdrawal Bill at Third Reading was a serious mistake that may come back to haunt the party. It makes it open to the charge of weakening the Government’s hands in its negotiations with the EU and at the same time encourages the likes of Tusk and Juncker to indulge in their delusion that if the EU plays hard ball in the trade negotiations, the British will see sense and change their mind – a well-practised tactic by those who refuse to accept that no means no.

In a characteristic disregard for basic democratic processes, the two bureaucrats suggested that the British people may wish to have a second referendum, a quintessential EU disrespect for peoples’ views that prompted many to vote to leave the EU in the first place.

Workers will not understand how Labour can, on the one hand vote, for Article 50 to trigger our withdrawal from the EU and yet a year later vote against the very instrument to make that possible. Sir Keir Starmer’s contention that the bill is not ‘fit for purpose’ is puerile. What exactly does Starmer think is the purpose of a bill entitled ‘EU Withdrawal Bill’?

Surely, having decided to leave the EU, Parliament has a duty to pass a bill whose ‘purpose’ is to make withdrawal possible. The fact that such a bill may not include what is on Labour’s wish list does not make it ‘not fit for purpose’. It’s like saying a car is not fit for purpose because it doesn’t have leather seats.

It was open for Labour to promise to put the clauses they failed to include in the bill into law once elected to government rather than vote against the bill – something that will be perceived as an attempt to scupper Brexit and defy the result of EU referendum which Labour promised to respect. It was left to Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer – along with Kelvin Hopkins – to represent the millions of workers who voted Labour by voting for the bill.

In a sense, the vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill was only a skirmish; the real battle is on the Single Market and the Customs Union and here Labour carries a greater load of dead weight of Remainers than do the Tory benches; they continually call on the leadership to clarify Labour’s Brexit policy.

They call for clarification but seek confusion, since the policy on Brexit was firmly settled at the last general election. The manifesto on which Labour MPs stood at the last general election stated: ‘Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union’. The corollary of this is the end of our membership of the Single Market because the freedom of movement of people is a fundamental pillar of the Single Market, without which the very concept of a single market vanishes.

Labour must clear the decks and stop trying to embarrass the Government on Brexit; opposition for opposition’s sake is not an attractive position to be in and in the context of Brexit and the ongoing negotiations with the EU, it will be seen as unpatriotic by most workers. Instead, Labour should concentrate on its strength, exposing government failures on the economy, social care, the NHS and now the collapse of Carillion; and it should develop the policies needed to re-balance the economy and shift it away from its dependence on services towards industry and making things – what Britain has always been good at.

There is little or no debate on what constitutes the best trade deal for Britain other than the much touted free, frictionless trade arrangement – and if that means continued unhindered movement of goods and capital, it will not serve the British economy well. After all, it was precisely such a relationship with the EU that brought about the loss of our manufacturing capacity and the rise of finance that resulted in a historically high balance of trade deficit and a historically low manufacturing capacity. It is the latter that creates the surplus value that drives the economy; banking and financial services may make profit but they do not create surplus value; they consume it.

The Thatcherite-Blairite consensus founded on neo-liberal free market ideology has spectacularly crashed in 2008 and now stands exposed by the collapse of Carillion. Just as the collapse of Carillion proved that cheapest is not necessarily the best, so it is with trade; a trade deal that providea cheap imported goods that compete with our own products is not necessarily best for the UK; we want a trade deal that protects our industry and supports our manufacturing – and that cannot be achieved with a free-for-all trade deal.

It’s not going to be easy to wean our economy off the diet of banking and financial services and get back into the habit of making things; and it will certainly involve pain and discomfort, as any radical change does. But the free ride that capital has had since we joined the Single Market must end and capital must be forced to accept its share of responsibility to the people who created it in the first place.