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As part of the internationalist response to the Covid-19 crisis we advocate, Momentum Internationalists is calling for a “lengthy extension of the Brexit transition period”.
What does that mean?
In the best case scenario, where the EU and UK agree a workable post-Brexit trade deal, the kind of hard Brexit the Tories want will cause major damage to the UK economy (any Brexit will cause some damage, certainly any Brexit that curbs free movement of people). In fact, for obvious reasons, EU-UK negotiations have ground to a halt and are still effectively grounded. A deal is unlikely; if there is one it will be a mess, barely mitigating severe economic disruption.
For this to happen in less than eight months’ time, when the economic and social fall-out from the Covid-19 crisis is near its peak, would be a disaster. Britain’s ruling class will take a hit, which is why much of it is not happy about this, but it will weather the storm and find ways to make use of it; some of its members will make a lot of money out of the chaos. Much of the working class and the most vulnerable people in society will very likely suffer horribly.
Meanwhile the hard right of the Tory party, the Dominic Raabs and Priti Patels, will exploit the situation to push forward their turbo-austerity, worker-attacking, migrant-bashing disaster-capitalist agenda. They will do that as we emerge from the pandemic anyway. But a hard Brexit rushed through in the middle of the fall-out from Covid-19 will help them. Stopping their Brexit-drive is an important part of fighting their agenda.
We should halt the rush to Brexit and insist energies are concentrated on dealing with Covid-19 and discussing how we rebuild society as we emerge from the pandemic.
Aren’t you just saying this because you’re against Brexit?
Many in Momentum Internationalists are more broadly anti-Brexit. All of us think the Covid-19 crisis reaffirms that the labour movement and left need to fight for international, not nationally-limited solutions, to the multiple crises we face. International cooperation and solidarity is key. We will continue to discuss what that means in relation to Brexit.
But even if you think Brexit should happen, or has to happen, in a general sense, that is a very different matter from accepting the kind of Brexit the Tories want – and still less from accepting their right to rush it through in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. The whole labour movement, regardless of wider views on Brexit, should oppose this.
What do you mean rush it through? Hasn’t this been discussed endlessly?
The transition period ends in less than eight months. The deadline for the UK government to apply for an extension is 30 June – about seven weeks! So this really is urgent.
The radically new situation we find ourselves in, in the pandemic and lockdown, makes reassessing all this through a proper debate urgent too – but so far there is remarkably little discussion about it. That is partly because the Labour Party and unions are silent. We need to change that.
This is undemocratic. People have voted repeatedly for Brexit
The Tories won the electon by rallying pro-Brexit opinion around themselves, but even then every poll showed a narrow majority opposed to Brexit. In any case, public opinion on extending the transition is far more clear and decisive.
The latest polling shows that 66pc want an extension to the transition period in order to deal with Covid-19. That includes a substantial majority of every age group, social grade and region. It includes 49pc of people who voted Leave in the referendum, 48pc of those who voted Tory in 2019 and 45pc of those who voted Brexit Party (and 83pc of Labour voters).
A large LabourList poll found that readers favoured Labour fighting to extend the transition 76pc to 17pc.
We would argue against a rushed hard Brexit even if we were in a small minority. But the figures are clear!
It is not democratic that, at the moment, no substantial political force will speak up for that two-thirds majority. It is not democratic that the Tories are trying desperately to avoid serious discussion and debate of their plans. And it is not democratic that through its silence Labour is helping them.
Can we actually shift this?
Time is short, the Tory leadership is digging in and Labour is failing to lead. That makes it doubly important we do everything we can to build the pressure on this – if only to prepare people for what is coming if we fail.
However, it is not a hopeless cause. In addition to public opinion being on our side, it is very clear that a majority of the capitalist class are concerned about what is happening; so are leading people in the state machine. Despite pressure from the nationalist right and career-discipline, many leading Tories seem very uncomfortable, even before they face any serious pressure over the issue.
We do not take our cue from capitalists, civil service bosses or “moderate” Tory MPs. The point is that this issue may well blow up in the coming weeks, whatever the labour movement and Labour Party do.
Our party and movement should show some leadership, get out ahead of the issues and help create a genuine popular movement to stop the Tories.
So what are you doing?
We will continue to speak out, explain what is happening and why we need to stop it, and push for our movement to fight. We are promoting this call for Labour and the trade unions to break their silence and demand an extension. We are calling for local Labour Parties and union branches to meet online, if they aren’t already, and to discuss this question. We are pushing for Momentum and Forward Momentum to take a stand and raise the issue too.
Help us! Share this article, sign the statement linked above and raise the issues in Labour, Momentum, Forward Momentum or your union. For more information or to support our campaigning on this or other issues, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
• “It is clear we must demand an extension” – see here for an interview with Forward Momentum steering group member Ben Selby in which he discusses the issues.