Labour’s Missing Brexit Strategy
By selecting to view Brexit merely as a home electoral problem, Labour dangers ignoring it as a direct, real-world check of the get together’s democratic and internationalist commitments.
James Stafford ▪ Winter 2019
Jeremy Corbyn after assembly EU officers in Brussels in September (John Thys/AFP/Getty Photographs)
On October 20, 2018, some 700,000 marchers descended on London to demand a “people’s vote” on the phrases of Britain’s impending exit from the European Union. The march was the most important demonstration towards a sitting British authorities because the rallies towards the Iraq Conflict in 2003, eclipsing in measurement (if not fervor) the youth mobilization towards David Cameron’s authorities’s trebling of college charges in 2010. In the course of the forty-three years between the UK’s accession to the EU and its vote to go away, the blue-and-gold European flag was not often seen in public areas. Now it has been adopted as a logo of delight by a sizeable, vocal minority of the younger, the educated, and the skilled: daubed on faces, encircling punning slogans, glued onto hats and badges.
On the identical day because the march, the far-right media movie star Nigel Farage was addressing a a lot smaller crowd within the well-heeled market city of Harrogate, Yorkshire, in help of his newest car: the “Leave Means Leave” marketing campaign for unilateral and instant withdrawal from the EU. Farage’s rallies consist largely of a collection of reminders that the Depart marketing campaign gained the 2016 referendum. There are ritual boos for a variety of hate figures, from Cameron to Tony Blair to the European Fee’s unprepossessing president, Jean-Claude Juncker. The hardline Leavers, nevertheless, are far nearer to actual political energy than their Stay adversaries. In Boston Lincolnshire—the district that forged the very best proportion of Depart votes in the entire nation—Farage stood alongside Theresa Might’s former chief Brexit negotiator, the Conservative MP David Davis, to demand that the Conservative authorities “chuck Chequers”: shorthand for a byzantine proposal for a not-quite customs union with the European Union.
Because of a useless, polarizing referendum about a problem that has little to do with Britain’s stagnant financial system or fraying social material, these two tribes—the know-it-all Remainers and the know-nothing Leavers—now dominate British public life. Tv information gives a ceaseless parade of ghoulish Euro-obsessives, from erstwhile Blairite operators and arch-Remainers Andrew Adonis and Alastair Campbell to the rolling forged of grifters and plutocrats who declare to talk for Depart’s slender plurality of voters. There isn’t a finish in sight: when, or somewhat if, the preliminary settlement on withdrawal reached between the European Fee and Theresa Might is handed by means of the UK Parliament, a brand new spherical of negotiations will concentrate on the longer term relationship between the UK and the EU. The hole between the keenness of the 2 Brexit tribes and the tedium of the withdrawal course of is near comical. By no means within the subject of human historical past has a lot power been expended by so many individuals on one thing fairly this uninteresting.
Past the Brexit Tribes
What stake might Labour, a newly assured get together of democratic socialism, have on this grim warfare of attrition between the decrepit liberal middle and the odious far proper? Beneath its earlier chief, Ed Miliband, the celebration opposed holding a referendum in any respect—a place that appears wiser with each passing month. Beneath Jeremy Corbyn, Labour endorsed a lackluster pro-Stay place, which was adopted by recriminations and soul-searching concerning the numbers of notional Labour supporters who voted Depart. Ever since its shocking electoral success at a snap ballot referred to as by Theresa Might final yr, the get together management has relentlessly targeted on bread-and-butter points able to uniting supporters of Depart and Stay. Labour is placing collectively a few of its most formidable financial plans in years: ending austerity, reforming the Treasury and the Financial institution of England, boosting public possession, and creating a inexperienced, regional industrial technique, able to regenerating the English cities that pushed Depart over the road.
You don’t should be a member of the blue-and-gold face paint brigade, nevertheless, to fret concerning the celebration’s failure to tackle Brexit as a serious difficulty in its personal proper. The small print is perhaps tedious, the forged of characters terrible, however Brexit raises elementary questions on Britain’s orientation in international political financial system. By selecting to view it merely as a home electoral problem, Labour dangers ignoring the strategic want—and moral obligation—to think about it as an instantaneous, real-world check of its democratic and internationalist commitments.
We aren’t missing for critiques of the inflexible, juridified, “undemocratic” EU, seen by many on the left as emblematic of a dying politics of technocratic market self-discipline. However what does the choice seem like? On the time of writing, the celebration’s reply is confused and underwhelming: a relationship someplace between a customs and a regulatory union, with a variety of exemptions and veto rights—on industrial subsidies, commerce agreements with third nations, and the free motion of staff—that the EU won’t ever supply to a non-member. As this means, Labour continues to be guided by the transactional, nationalist assumptions that body the remainder of the nation’s Brexit debate. In defiance of all out there proof, social gathering spokespeople say they’ll get a “better deal for Britain,” as a result of the “grown-ups will be in charge.”
The subsequent part of the Brexit saga will demand a bolder and extra real looking stance. Labour urgently must internalize a deeper understanding of the UK’s elementary predicament in at this time’s international order, alongside a way of duty for the peace and prosperity of a Europe that’s teetering on the abyss. The UK’s place in Europe would be the central query for a socialist overseas coverage. For higher or for worse, Labour’s reply might find yourself defining its subsequent time period in workplace.
Focusing Labour’s overseas coverage on the turgid particulars of commerce negotiations in Europe is uncomfortable for a management whose strongest allegiances lie in international solidarity and anti-imperialist actions. Outstanding supporters of Jeremy Corbyn routinely lampoon diehard centrist Remainers for the bourgeois parochialism of their slender European allegiance. Corbyn’s landmark 2017 overseas coverage speech signaled that a Labour authorities would champion the UN because the indispensable venue for a “progressive, rules-based international system,” arguing that human rights might solely be protected and prolonged within the context of worldwide insurance policies to deal with inequality. Throughout an earlier “People’s Vote” march, Corbyn was visiting refugees beneath UNHCR safety on the Zaatari refugee camp in Lebanon. The distinction spoke volumes. For noisy, pro-European detractors, inside and out of doors the Labour Celebration, it signaled (at greatest) Corbyn’s ethereal disinterest within the real-world politics of Brexit. For the chief’s allies, it demonstrated the seriousness of his dedication to a genuinely radical overseas coverage.
It’s hardly a stretch, although, to recommend that a sensible socialist internationalism begins with a dedication to peace, democracy, and human rights in a single’s personal area of the world. There’s a high-quality line to tread between a universalism aware of Britain’s central position in colonialisms previous and current, and a savior complicated that recollects the imperial paternalism of the twentieth-century Labour Get together. Strategic self-interest also needs to push Labour to pay extra consideration to the politics of the European continent. Whereas the UK enjoys a privileged place within the international hierarchy of states, its room for maneuver is restricted by its small measurement and exceptionally open and over-leveraged financial system. Missing a home manufacturing base—even for fundamentals reminiscent of power and meals—it’s spectacularly ill-equipped to be a guinea pig for a left-wing number of financial nationalism. This makes it acutely weak to the ruthless strategy to globalization taken by main powers like america, China, and the EU itself.
As Adam Tooze has eloquently argued, the liberal thesis that international financial integration would act as a solvent of interstate competitors has confirmed false. As an alternative, it has deepened and expanded the unavoidable entanglement of politics and economics, turning each facet of the world market—from greenback financing to fuel pipelines, web regulation to funding pacts—into a possible technique of coercion. Like Theresa Might, Labour has tacitly acknowledged that this aggressive and unstable international conjuncture pushes the UK nearer to the EU. Whereas social gathering intellectuals noisily debated the deserves of “Lexit”—complete “rupture” with the European establishments—parliamentarians, members, and commerce unionists quietly shifted Labour towards a “soft” Brexit, outlined by persevering with regulatory integration with the EU.
A Labour Britain, then, would have an enormous stake in Europe’s future. However simply what view does the social gathering take of the continent’s a number of, interlocking crises? Past windy, moralistic condemnation of the EU’s manifold failings, and factional schadenfreude over the electoral collapse of “centrist” social democracy on the continent, it’s virtually inconceivable to say. However wishing away the EU, or its issues, presents no answer. Brexit doesn’t insulate Britain from the catastrophic financial and political penalties of a disorderly breakup of the euro or the EU itself. Nobody hoping for a profitable left authorities in Britain can truthfully welcome that risk.
Leaving the EU, furthermore, doesn’t absolve British socialists of ethical duty for our close to overseas. It was Might and Cameron, in any case, who first made the case for ending Mediterranean search-and-rescue missions for refugees, now taken up by Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, and Germany’s far-right AfD. As a key proponent of neoliberal insurance policies, a bastion of tax-avoidance and finance capital, a block to the development of transnational democratic establishments, and an advocate of hardline migration and safety insurance policies, the UK has lengthy been a part of the issue in Europe. Is there any approach that it may be a part of the answer? This can be a query that no a part of Labour, up to now, has been thinking about asking.
A Nation-state of Thoughts
The stakes of Labour’s Europe coverage grow to be all of the clearer once we think about the damaging nationalist dynamic Brexit has unleashed inside British politics. The profitable marketing campaign dealt in a maximalist conception of well-liked sovereignty that’s troublesome to reconcile with any persevering with authority for European establishments in British life. But it additionally claimed that, after Brexit, the UK might take part in “a free trade area from Iceland to the Russian border,” one thing that sounds very very similar to the European Financial Space (EEA), a unified regulatory area requiring adherence to EU regulation. They promised, in essence, that absolute territorial sovereignty could possibly be reclaimed in a single day, with minimal financial disruption. Each Labour and the Conservatives have been complicit in obscuring the elemental dishonesty of the Depart marketing campaign, advocating selective types of participation in a European authorized order that the European Fee and the member states regard as unified and nonnegotiable.
Assuming the UK makes it over the primary hurdle of agreeing to preliminary phrases for its exit from the EU, a remaining settlement, concluded years from now, might take many varieties. The bilateral commerce settlement made between the EU and Canada in 2017, as an example, is sort of totally different from Norway’s association with the EU, which is predicated on full participation within the EEA. The EU, strikingly respectful of the “red lines” articulated by Might through the negotiations, at present suggests a Turkey- or Ukraine-style affiliation settlement as a mannequin. In contrast to the remainder of the draft “withdrawal agreement,” nevertheless, plans for a future treaty are nonetheless up for revision.
The substantive particulars, nevertheless, are unlikely to matter all that a lot to the underlying politics of the EU-UK relationship. The imbalance of measurement and energy between the 2, the worldwide attain of the EU’s regulatory state, and the overriding crucial to keep away from a visual border on the island of Eire all assure that the EU will probably be a extra identifiable and contested energy in British public life than it was when the UK was a full member. Whether or not it’s Labour or the Conservatives who find yourself signing the last word settlement with the EU, that is fertile territory for resentful narratives of humiliation and betrayal.
Labour should include and overcome this nationalist, conflictual dynamic, the last word beneficiaries of which would be the coalition of right-wing forces represented by “Leave Means Leave.” Farage and his allies have a transparent and frighteningly believable roadmap for a non-European British future. An acrimonious breakdown in negotiations would offer an ideal event for them to implement a disaster-capitalist mannequin of Brexit. Conservative ministers have hinted that “no deal” would oblige Britain to decrease the company tax fee to 10 % and slash social and ecological requirements in an effort to protect “competitiveness” within the face of upper tariff limitations. Many in Labour assume that the Conservatives can be pressured to name a common election in such circumstances, however it’s equally believable that a sense of disaster would bolster the authority of a brand new prime minister. With sterling in freefall, heavy items automobiles lined up at ports, flights grounded, chaos on the Irish border, and provides of meals, gasoline, and drugs unsure, a serious rightward lurch might be portrayed as a set of mandatory responses to a nationwide emergency. The asset-strippers, in the meantime, are circling in anticipation. As a Bain Capital government informed Bloomberg in September, “when everyone is rushing out of a building on fire, there can be opportunities to find valuable stuff there.”
Voting down the withdrawal settlement is the most effective hope the Brexit ultras have of realizing this nightmare state of affairs. Even when the settlement passes, nevertheless, Labour will nonetheless need to reckon with the long-term penalties of Brexit’s radicalization of the Conservative Celebration. The victory of the Depart marketing campaign has considerably expanded the British political constituency for what Quinn Slobodian phrases the “alter-globalization of the right.” Financial alignment with america, on phrases dictated by the Heritage Basis and the GOP, has lengthy been on the core of this Tory imaginative and prescient for Britain’s future. The minister for worldwide commerce, Liam Fox, has floated a U.S.-UK bilateral commerce deal, an concept already reciprocated by the Trump administration. For sure, opening the NHS to U.S. pharma and healthcare corporations would destroy the British welfare state as we all know it. The Brexit elite talks the language of nationwide sovereignty, however their actual function is to radically undermine Britain’s political autonomy, utilizing the shibboleth of the referendum outcome to silence opposition to their radically regressive agenda.
As this temporary survey suggests, the UK’s political future won’t be outlined by an easy selection between nationwide sovereignty and neoliberal globalization. Within the context of a fractured and unstable world politics, it’s confronted as an alternative by rival visions of regional and international order. Labour’s activity, in these circumstances, is to construct democratic legitimacy for the strategic selection it has already, in apply, made: in favor of a unbroken, shut relationship with the EU.
Because the peace activist and worldwide theorist Mary Kaldor advised Renewal in July, the celebration’s present place strips out the political dimensions of integration—widespread citizenship and illustration within the European Council and the European Parliament—whereas leaving transnational financial governance largely intact. Just like the Eurozone disaster, or the failure to agree a standard asylum coverage, Brexit contributes to the degradation of democratic illustration and sovereign equality as primary rules of the European Union. Even on Labour’s phrases, then, Brexit doesn’t seem like an escape from the bloc’s worst tendencies. As an alternative, it confirms them, providing an extra occasion of how member-states persistently go for short-term, patchwork fixes and technocratic market integration somewhat than dealing with as much as the challenges of transnational democracy.
For Kaldor and different members of the left-wing marketing campaign for a “People’s Vote,” One other Europe is Potential (AEIP), the answer to the democratic deficit deepened by Brexit is straightforward: don’t depart the EU. If Labour threw its help behind the marketing campaign for a second vote, they argue, it might be a part of forces with left actions and governments throughout the continent to broaden, somewhat than prohibit, the scope of transnational democracy. Slightly than pinning their hopes on the distant prospect of treaty change, AEIP stress the advantages of a socialist Labour authorities utilizing its entry to the European Council, Fee, and Parliament to push the bloc in a extra progressive course. AEIP’s Luke Cooper argues that Labour might reap the benefits of the bloc’s fragmentation by forming “coalitions of the willing” to advance a extra beneficiant asylum coverage. On the Labour Get together convention in September 2018, the marketing campaign claimed a big victory in pressuring the management to publicly ponder a brand new referendum on the phrases of Britain’s departure from the EU, through which “Remain” continues to be a particular choice.
Except for the formidable procedural obstacles to a second vote at this late stage, nevertheless, it stays removed from clear that pro-Europeans have discovered a strategy to efficiently problem the toxic dynamics of post-Brexit politics. There isn’t any a priori cause why a brand new referendum must be considered much less democratic than the primary; it will in truth permit the citizens to guage a concrete Brexit proposition moderately than the obscure fantasies of the 2016 Depart marketing campaign. However Labour might have left it too late to make a convincing case for a recent vote. In a polity with few established procedures for in style session, merely repeating the train with out completely establishing its legitimacy dangers additional polarization and resentment. As issues stand, the argument that Brussels and Westminster elites have been “refusing to take no for an answer” would take pleasure in immense traction.
Even when it continues to reject requires a second vote, nevertheless, Labour nonetheless must assume extra critically concerning the democratic viability of an in depth, however asymmetrical, relationship between the UK and the EU. Bypassing, if crucial, the European Fee and nationwide governments, it ought to search the creation of democratic boards, each deliberative and consultant, the place residents from Britain and the member states, or parliamentarians from Westminster and the European Parliament, might meet to debate issues of widespread concern and provide you with resolutions on European laws and directives. This may not quantity, in fact, to the privileged co-authorship of EU regulation that Britain loved as a full member of the establishment. However it will make sure that the EU-UK relationship after Brexit is greater than merely intergovernmental. Bringing residents and representatives from totally different nations collectively, in public, is among the solely methods we’ve got to diffuse the slender, secretive, us-versus-them dynamic that has developed in the middle of the withdrawal negotiations.
Labour might additionally sign its continued willingness to share in Europe’s issues, in addition to its privileges. Whereas he was on the Zataari refugee camp, Jeremy Corbyn made a hanging supply to European leaders: that Britain, even after Brexit, can be prepared to take part in a continent-wide quota system for the distribution of refugees arriving on the Mediterranean and Balkans routes. The significance and farsightedness of the announcement has been misplaced within the flurry of Brexit politics, however it accommodates the germ of a extra constructive Labour coverage. As an alternative of one-sided calls for for privileged market entry, the social gathering’s future strategy ought to be based mostly on rebuilding belief with European capitals, demonstrating that a Labour authorities within the UK can be a useful, principled supporter of progressive initiatives and member-state coalitions.
These recommendations are intentionally modest. They’re meant as examples of how Labour may mix a principled dedication to democratic internationalism with a sensible evaluation of the parlous situation of each the UK and the EU. Additionally they search to problem the complacency and parochialism which have lengthy outlined Labour’s angle towards Europe. Because the battles over the Maastricht Treaty and the Change Price Mechanism within the early 1990s, Labour leaders have regarded the EU as a problem of minimal political salience, for use to attain tactical victories over a perennially divided Conservative Social gathering. With the EU and the UK in an unprecedented, interlocking disaster, it not possesses this luxurious. On grounds of each socialist precept and strategic curiosity, Labour known as upon to assist resist Europe’s slide into authoritarianism and energy politics. Brexit makes this problem more durable, excluding the UK from EU decision-making and introducing a confrontational, nationalist dynamic into its relationship with different member states.
Over the approaching years, it can develop into even simpler to win votes by pouring opprobrium on Britain’s neighbours. Labour’s process in these circumstances shouldn’t be to make sure that the sovereign British nation all the time comes out on prime, however to increase democracy into each space of our widespread life, together with people who transcend nationwide borders. Democracy shouldn’t be a singular second of a choice, reserved to bounded, pristine, sovereign peoples. It’s a fixed strategy of adjustment, deliberation, and negotiation, which the fashionable world requires us to conduct in many various boards and settings—all of them lower than perfect. The British left ought to view Europe much less as an ideological undertaking, requiring both allegiance or rejection, than as an inescapable political area, through which we’ve got a unbroken duty to behave. Discovering the means and alliances to take action, whether or not or not the UK stays a member of the EU, is our sole hope for salvaging one thing worthwhile from the dangerous distraction of Brexit.
James Stafford is a UK Labour Get together member, dwelling in Hamburg, Germany. He’s Postdoctoral Researcher in World Politics at Bielefeld College and co-editor of Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy.
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