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Stop the rush to No-Deal

• If you agree with this article, please add your name to this call for Labour to campaign on this

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: info@momentuminternationalists.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.

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Labour must stand with Kashmir

By Nadia Whittome MP (August 8th 2019)

By revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution that provide special autonomous status and residency rules for Jammu and Kashmir, and preparing to break up the state, Narenda Modi’s far-right, Hindu-supremacist government has effectively declared war on the Kashmiri people. It has virtually declared a literal war too, with tens of thousands of troops invading the state, mainstream political leaders under house arrest, a total communications blackout, and reports of widespread human rights abuses. An already bad situation has got much worse, fast.

This attack foremost profoundly impacts the people of Kashmir, in particular, but not only, the roughly 70pc Muslim majority. It also further endangers the Muslim minority in India, who are the main targets of Hindu nationalists now running the country. Beyond this, the UK has the largest diaspora Kashmiri community in the world and, whilst the blackout continues, they are unable to check that friends or family in Kashmir are safe. And more generally this is a dramatic deepening of the far-right project Modi’s regime has been gradually escalating.

It is extremely disappointing that the Labour Party has not spoken out loudly about India’s assault on Kashmir. Firstly, because an injury to one is an injury to all, and we should stand against human rights abuses and suppression of democracy everywhere in the world. Secondly, because our party and movement should be the determined enemy of the far right everywhere in the world, and the Indian government is a central element of that growing far right internationally. No Pasarán!

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Shadow Minister, Liz McInnes, has made a statement on behalf of the Labour Party, but it is not strong enough politically nor does it amount to campaigning solidarity. The party leadership is largely silent. A group of Muslim-background Labour MPs have written a stronger letter to the British government demanding real opposition to the Indian government’s moves. They should not be left to fight alone.

Labour must insist that the British government releases a clear statement of condemnation, demanding reinstatement of Articles 370 and 35A, immediate military de-escalation, and the immediate suspension of British arms sales for use by the Indian military. Crucially, the British government must publicly assert the Kashmiri peoples’ right to self-determination and support the plebiscite that was promised at the time of accession, and give a firm commitment to use all diplomatic means to resolve this.

It is hard to know exactly why the party nationally has not stirred itself. It may simply be the inertia which hangs over the party on various international – and not just international – issues. Where are the strong statements of support for the democracy movement in Sudan, for instance, or in Hong Kong, or against the suppression of the Uyghurs? But I cannot help but also wonder if the presence of BJP or Modi sympathisers in senior positions is also a factor. Barry Gardiner in particular has a two-decades long record of supporting Modi, including recent statements praising him. To come out fighting on this also implies confronting the likes of Gardiner.

Socialists are not advocates for any nationalist movement or nationalist solution to a conflict. We are internationalists. But internationalism demands determined opposition to oppression and in this case to the Indian imperialist Hindutva drive against the people of Kashmir. In this case it is not enough simply to resolve for “peace” because, as in Palestine, peace in Kashmir is necessarily dependent on the right to meaningful self-determination.

Let us campaign for our party and unions to make a strong stand against the Indian occupation of Kashmir, for peace, and the right to self-determination. Meanwhile members should educate themselves on the issues; write to our MPs asking for support; organise solidarity meetings or actions and attend those already being organised; and share protests and information on social media.

This article was written for the Clarion in August 2019 and appeared here.

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Don’t pander to Modi: an open letter to Keir Starmer


• To sign the letter, click here.

After meeting with the executive of “Labour Friends of India” (LFIN), a group which opposes criticism of India’s current far-right government, Keir Starmer has made comments which are assumed to be a move to distance Labour from its conference policy in solidarity with Kashmir.

“We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here.

“Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.”

In a joint press statement between the Labour Leadership and LFIN, Starmer added;

“A Labour Government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India.”

Last year’s Labour Party conference passed an emergency motion in opposition to Indian state oppression in Kashmir and in support of self-determination. To move away from the position is undemocratic and a far cry from the internationalism Starmer claims is at the heart of the party.

This follows a campaign orchestrated by the Indian government-linked far right – who campaigned in the UK general election to smear Labour as “anti-Indian” and “anti-Hindu”, and pit different religious communities against each other. To equate support for the Modi government and its actions in Kashmir to “India” and the “British Indian community” is to treat British Indians and the 1.4 billion population of India as a homogenous block supporting the Hindu far right. This is clearly untrue and is a betrayal of our comrades, including vast numbers of labour movement activists, fighting at great risk for democracy in India.

Please sign this open letter to Keir Starmer calling for the Party leadership to respect our democracy and conference policy, and to show it is serious about the fight for human rights, including in Kashmir.

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Labour must campaign for its democratically-agreed 2019 conference policy of demanding “the restoration of basic human rights and… the right to self-determination” in Kashmir.

We were disturbed by Keir Starmer’s declaration, in defiance of party policy, that “any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament” and his signalling through talk about “business links” and “dialogue” that he wants a rapprochment with India’s far-right government.

He says “Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere”. For that to be more than empty words, the party must firmly oppose human rights violations everywhere, including in Kashmir; support democracy and the right to self-determination – including in Kashmir; and fight the global nationalist right, of which the Modi regime is a central pillar.

We must not capitulate to the Hindu right’s communalist agitation in Britain, which seeks to divide communities on religious lines while shouting that support for human rights is divisive. We must not abandon our comrades in India fighting for democracy, workers’ rights and the rights of minorities against the Hindu nationalist regime.

We call on Keir Starmer and the party leadership to respect our democracy and conference policy, and to show it is serious about the fight for human rights, including in Kashmir.