With Boris Johnson taking the country to the brink of a no deal brexit, all eyes will be on anyone trying to stop it. They will be painted as the undemocratic “doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters” of the UK. Johnson hopes to frame the next election around brexit and paint himself, similar to Trump, as on the side of the people. All this, whilst calling anyone else who stands against brexit unpatriotic. Brexit will be part of this election, Labour need to embrace that in one form or another.
Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to respect the result of the referendum, he is about to be labelled as the opposition to the democratic ‘will of the people’. Johnson has the upper hand here as most sitting governments do, he can call an election and set the date as he wishes. Many are concerned that if he sets this after the 31st of October, the date we are due to leave the European Union, that we will leave with no deal automatically as parliament will have been dissolved to hold the election. Many have called this undemocratic and dangerous.
Corbyn has written to the Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill — one of the UKs most senior civil servants — to see if this is lawful as the brexit date would fall in the middle of the election trail, he openly asks if the government would seek an extension on Article 50 so this could not happen. As Owen Jones points out in his latest article, Sedwill is at odds with Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, who says that the UK could leave the EU on the 31st, election or no election. Jones speculates that Sedwill may even go along with Cox and the Tories as he has his eyes on the position of ambassador to the US.
Johnson will use this ‘anti-brexit stance’ against Labour in a general election whilst also sweeping up any Brexit Party support, which he fears will split his vote. Anything Labour does in the run-up to the 31st of October will be used against them, however this will be more damaging and distracting if it is within the election period. Johnson, but more likely Dominic Cummings his advisor, has probably been planning this for a long time. With Labours’ busted brexit stance and the FBPE crowd from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party biting at Corbyn’s ankles, Labour does not have a lot of room to manoeuvre.
The shadow cabinet now needs to decide if they will play their hand at a no-confidence motion. They have nothing to lose by doing it but if it passes, then they will end up in a very tricky situation. This is depending on the outcome of what Sedwill says about the UK leaving the EU on the 31st in the event of an election. The election could be triggered by a no-confidence vote, which would set off a GE should the government could not pass a second voting 14 days after. Or, Johnson could take the risk and call a GE himself, as he only has a majority of one MP.
One possibility is that a government of national unity will be formed, this would be to take control of parliament to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, and to call an election. However, Corbyn will never be head of this. The Liberal Democrats will not support him and some in his own party have said they will not. Even the irrelevant Independent Group could play a part in forming this fictional government, it is safe to say that they won’t support Corbyn. Another person could become ‘the chosen one’ to head up a national government, however it appears Labour want to avoid this at all costs. Labour must watch out as a coup from Watson et al. could come in this form, not only would it stop brexit, but it would also lower the chances of a possible Labour government.
Return of the Magic Money Tree?
Johnson is making many promises and if he delivers Brexit, whatever the method, he will probably win a majority in a GE. We will then end up with some awful national project, like the Garden Bridge or the Millennium Dome, to promote national unity and pride. When in all reality it will really be Johnson’s vanity project as a mark of his time in office, all paid for by the taxpayer. Johnson’s spending promises take the wind out of Labour’s anti-austerity stance that was popular in the 2017 GE. Johnson has promised money for the NHS, police, business and councils. He is likely to have the upper hand in an election; this of course depends on when the election is held. It is clear he will call it before the economic downsides of brexit hit in, if he leaves it too long then he will be blamed for any negative effects of brexit. Rightfully so.
Losing a GE will be the end of the Corbyn project, that is unless Labour decide now how they will start the next parliamentary session. With the botched election of Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen as President of the EU Commission, despite the new rules for democracy, many remainers are delusional about remain and reform in the EU. Even as deluded are the Lexit crowd who want brexit now as they feel it will lead to some socialist utopia, even when we have Johnson at the helm of a Tory no deal brexit. So what options are there?
Let the Tories do brexit? If we do this they might win an election depending on when it is called. Brexit will not be a disaster straight away, planes will not fall out the sky, but Labour will not let Tories do this. They are dedicated to opposing a Tory no deal and remaining in the EU in this event as they feel it would be disastrous for the UK.
Labour’s Brexit Stance
It needs to be clearer. Renegotiate a deal then support remain in another referendum? No one is sure, and this is a difficult sell.
Labour have already promised another referendum, or confirmatory vote, on any EU deal. They have also promised to support remain against a no deal situation. However, if Labour form a government, then there wouldn’t be a no deal. Would they go against their own deal? Of course not, but individual MPs could in an open referendum. Labour need to be clear about this. This stance could revive a call for a soft brexit which has since lost support due to the brexit fatigue which the electorate are suffering from. Maybe Labour’s position was right all along.
A clear simple message: If you want a transformative government, then let us negotiate a minimal risk brexit and then you can vote on it. Labour’s deal versus remain.
However, Labour, and more so it’s leadership, needs to be clear if we can implement our transformative manifesto in either situation. Inside or outside the EU. Maybe that is something that needs to be discussed with the new president of the EU commission?
Whilst a good deal may not want another vote, it is an opening for the left to clear the air and put an end to the toxic brexit drama. Only then can Labour move on and deal with the issues that are threatening the country. At least this time we will know how brexit could look if we left.
As for Johnson’s spending promises, Labour need to point out that money does not change things. Things may get better for a short time, but more money is always needed. Systematic reform is needed to change the country. Look at the popularity of abolishing SATS for year 6 students with teachers and parents. University fee reform. Education reform. Building houses and rental controls. Workers’ rights. Public transport nationalisation and bringing utilities in house. National investment banks. These were popular policies with the electorate in 2017, now we need to push further where we can.
Reform the House of Lords, a 4-day week, increased childcare, restructure the NHS, Universal Basic Services, a Green New Deal, bring life back to the north, investment in science and business, rebuild the UK arts industry and end homelessness. And after this brexit drama we should even call for a national constitution. These are only the tip of the possible manifesto.
Labour should not try to outdo Johnson’s spending plans; they need to be more radical in how they can change the country for everybody.
Labour cannot avoid brexit this election but it can make it part of the bigger transformative program. In or out of the EU, the UK needs a socialist Labour government.