This is what Labour should do about Brexit – and it starts with realising we're not a protest party like the Lib Dems

Where the Tory party promises to scrap freedom of movement, we must make the positive argument for sensible immigration reform. Where the Tory party pursues a policy that would lead to economic ruin, we must make compromises with the European Union to avert such ruin

Liam Young
Thursday 15 December 2016 12:07 GMT
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Jeremy Corbyn must unequivocally tell the British people that the Labour Party will enact the democratic decision made on 23 June
Jeremy Corbyn must unequivocally tell the British people that the Labour Party will enact the democratic decision made on 23 June (PA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Any political party that is serious about taking power cannot promise or pledge to overturn the EU referendum result of 23 June. This idea that Labour must appeal to one side or the other is foolish and short-sighted. As Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, told Bloomberg last week: “any political party with an ambition simply to frustrate the process cannot unify or heal the country.” And he is right.

The Labour Party doesn’t have the same job as the Liberal Democrats. Our job is to earn the trust of the British people. We should not be in the business of politics to act as a pressure group as the Lib Dems do. Our job – as democratic socialists – is to offer the British people an alternative vision to that of the government of the day.

Right now, the Tory party is offering the British people a chaotic vision of Brexit. The Prime Minister doesn’t appear to have a plan. Theresa May’s own ministers continue to undermine and contradict her. Downing Street appears to exist as an operation that denies the validity of Boris Johnson’s statements. The Labour Party has to offer a different way of doing things.

Brexit is happening. As frustrating and disappointing as that may be to those – like myself – who voted to stay in the European Union, it is a fact of life. What is truly terrifying at the moment is the fact that this crucial decision is being left in the hands of a Tory party hell-bent on appealing to the populist right. At the same time the public remain fixated on legal challenges and meaningless by-election results. By focusing energy on these issues, Labour lets itself slip into irrelevance when it should be outlining a strong vision.

To say that the Labour Party currently finds itself between a rock and a hard place would be the understatement of the century. Most commentary concerning Labour’s Brexit conundrum remains focused on personality and internal splits. What is lacking from the debate is a genuine analysis of what Labour must do to remain both relevant and electable.

Jeremy Corbyn must unequivocally tell the British people that the Labour Party will enact the democratic decision made on 23 June. We should promise to leave the European Union and alter our relationship with the institution so European politics begins to work properly for British working-class people.

Where the Tory party promises to scrap freedom of movement, we must make the positive argument for sensible immigration reform. Where the Tory party pursues a policy that would lead to economic ruin, we must make compromises with the European Union to avert such ruin.

This might sound idealistic at first. But these are the promises Labour must make. If we realise that they are unachievable, we will still have been elected with a clear mandate to avoid the damage that Brexit may bring to the greatest extent possible. In doing so, a genuine democratic decision will have been made to deny a hard Brexit to those especially right-wing Tory MPs who would have it their way.

Ultimately, rejecting a hard Brexit with Labour in power could mean delaying the process altogether. It could present a real argument for a second referendum. Labour has to be open to rolling with the punches as Article 50 is invoked and the negotiations begin, rather than sticking – like the Tories – to an inflexible ideological line that will end in disaster for Britain (and in particular for many of the communities which voted Leave).

Labour has to be clever to remain significant, and it’s time to choose our battles. This time, the battle is surely Brexit – and properly armed, we can defeat Theresa May’s backward vision of what post-Brexit Britain will look like.

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