Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour, the Customs Union and a Marxist Case against Brexit.

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Lexit Mythomania.

It has been said that Trotskyism is noted for ‘mythomania’. (1)

Whether on not that is true for Trotskyists the word fits the myth-spinning Lexit’ – pro-Brexit – left to a T.

Recently the leader of Counterfire asserted,

Labour should stick with its People’s Brexit strategy argues John Rees”.

I can’t recall Labour ever campaigning for or deciding in favour of a ‘People’s Brexit’, although few would doubt that Labour is in favour of a “A new economic settlement that works for the many.”

And Rees’ wish list of “better than the EU not worse than the EU.” is an interesting suggestion coming from a faction that supported leaving the EU under a Tory government that was bound to make things worse.

As Catherine West MP has written in the Independent (30.1.18),

It has often been argued by advocates of “Lexit” that a hard Brexit will allow a future Labour government to end austerity. That by leaving the single market and customs union and shaking off the shackles of Brussels we will have more freedom to invest in the economy.

This is nonsense. The reality is that austerity in the UK has been a political choice, made by this Tory Government, and has nothing to do with the EU or single market rules. EU rules impose no restriction whatsoever on the level of public spending. Its strictures are about deficits, that is, how much, in normal times, governments finance their spending by borrowing instead by taxation. Crucial is that the rules allow governments the flexibility to deliberately spend in a Keynesian manner during a recession and to invest.

Let’s be clear: a hard Brexit, whereby we leave the single market and customs union, will cause an economic loss that will reduce tax receipts and therefore risk an extension or intensification of austerity.

All credible economic analyses of the long-term cost of Brexit have found broadly the same hierarchy of effects: the further Britain travels from the single market, the greater the economic loss. Indeed, the Government’s leaked analysis, published by Buzzfeed, of the impact of Brexit says that the UK would be worse off under all scenarios. Furthermore, most estimates of the cost of Brexit may well be conservative and do not include uncertainty, business confidence and flight of EU workers, which will have a negative effect on the UK’s productivity.

She concludes,

for as long as the Conservatives remain in power, leaving the single market risks the extension of austerity for years to come, on top of the last decade of public spending cuts.

This is the report the article is based on: Busting the Lexit Myths.

The choice is clear. We can sit back and wait for the consequences of a hard Brexit to become so severe that it topples this terrible Tory government. Or we can stand up for those who will be worst affected and fight for membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union. Future generations will not forgive us for inaction or for perceived complicity in a Brexit that damages our country and our economy. Those of us on the left who believe in building a more equal, more prosperous and sustainable country must not be duped into supporting a Tory agenda that would do the opposite.

This brochure comes highly recommended from the guardians of Parliamentary Sovereignty in the Communist Party of Britain, as the product of  “Forces set on subverting the Brexit vote (who) have targetted the labour movement.”

Perhaps Counterfire, who campaigned for Brexit, alongside Trade Unionists Against the European Union (recently embroiled in controversy over their funding from hard-right millionaire Arron Banks), could bear this in mind and take a look at the real political debate over the EU.

If it’s not too much trouble

The BBC reports today,

Labour and customs union: Evolution not revolution. 

The Labour position has been to argue that “a” customs union was “a viable option” and that the government should “keep all options open”.

What we are likely to see on Monday is wording that makes plain that “a” not “the” customs union would have distinct benefits and is the most logical way to solve the thorny issue of the Irish border.

It won’t just be a viable option but a viable end point. And the policy is likely to evolve in another way too.

Currently Labour recognises that when we are out of the EU, we are out of the single market.

So it is arguing that it wants to retain the same benefits as single market membership – such as tariff-free trade.

I’m told the same formulation could be applied to “a” customs union, that in the long term a future Labour government could sign up to one, if the UK got the exact same benefits as it gets from “the” customs union – frictionless trade and a say over the external tariff on imported goods.

As Labour has talked about the benefits of some form of customs union before, this would be an incremental not dramatic move forward.

However party insiders say that Jeremy Corbyn can’t guarantee that a future Labour government would definitely be in such a customs union because it would have to be negotiated with the EU.

But one insider said that people listening on Monday will have no doubt where Labour is headed: That a customs union is the preferred option.

Speaking on LBC radio, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry gave credence to this by saying: “We have to negotiate a new agreement. That, we think, is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union.”

On the strategy to take the New Statesman carried this article a few days ago,

A Marxist case against Brexit: Trade union leader Manuel Cortes on what Labour should do.

The TSSA General Secretary  states,

Cortes has called for the UK to remain in the EU. “Any Brexit deal that introduces friction and borders will finish off the job that Thatcher started because our manufacturing industry will just dwindle away,” he warns. A “soft Brexit” (remaining in the single market and the customs union), meanwhile, would condemn the UK to “vassal statehood” by making it “a rule-taker, rather than a rule-maker”.

Will Labour listen to this pro-EU view, one which many on the left (outside fringe groups like Counterfire or the Sovereigntist Morning Star) share?

But Labour’s 2017 manifesto pledged to end free movement and Corbyn has refused to endorse a new referendum on Brexit (Cortes was said to be “furious” when the issue was not debated at last year’s party conference). “The Tories are having a conversation with themselves, I think we need to have a conversation with the country,” says Cortes. “Labour is ideally placed to start that conversation.”

Does he believe that Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, could yet change his mind? “My view is that Jeremy listens to people and he will continue to look at what the facts are,” Cortes says. “And as those facts change, and he continues to listen to people, I’m sure he could change his mind. I see no reason why he would be fixated on any position.”

The AWL certainly agrees,

The resignation of the Blairite Lord Adonis from his position as adviser to the Tory government has shown the issue of Brexit, and whether or not to try and stop it, is not over in the Labour Party.

A new survey has suggested that allegedly 78% of Labour members want Brexit to be stopped or at least want a second referendum.

Up until last year’s election the right-wing of Labour (notably Progress) had only half-heartedly taken up the issue of stopping Brexit. They avoided directly opposing Brexit because they feared the electoral power of nationalistic sentiment.
They couched their opposition to Brexit primarily as the need to retain membership of the EU single market, aware that there was considerable cross-party concern about the impact of withdrawal on business.

For the left in the Party, issues of migrant rights and the growth of political nationalism were the major concern. Last autumn the Labour Campaign For Free Movement collected hundreds of signatures on a statement calling for the Party to be unambiguous in its defence of migration.

For Workers’ Liberty, opposing Brexit required taking the issue of defending migrants into “Leave” sections of the working class. These were often poorer sections of the class: unorganised and politically demoralised by decades of austerity.

Our positive case should include developing real links with the rest of the radical workers’ movement in Europe and transforming the EU.

Moving toward government, a radical Labour Party can energise the European labour movement. We can stop Brexit, challenge austerity on a cross-European basis and stop the nationalist narrative trapping British workers.

We need a working-class campaign to stop Brexit.

 

(1) A term which is something of a leitmotif in Christophe NickLes Trotskistes, Fayard, 2002,

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6 Responses

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  1. the pro-Brexit “left” (CP, Socialist Party, SWP, Counterfart, etc) really arte irresponsible idiots who deserve to be held to account at every possible turn, for their treachery towards the socialist a-b-c’s and their indifference to the carnival of reaction they have helped (albeit in a very minor way) stir up. We must never forget, or forgive, this shower.

    Jim Denham

    February 23, 2018 at 3:18 pm

  2. More from Manuel Cortes, today on Labour List.

    “Only Labour can now out the truth that a transitional period is not a halfway house from which to negotiate. Transition will reduce us to immediate vassal statehood as we will have ceded our current status as EU rule-maker to one of voluntary compliance. The UK ship of state will still be berthed in EU harbour but without its flag of EU convenience.

    It falls to Labour to alter the disaster of this Tory trajectory. We must now put the case to rescind Article 50’s Tory deadline from March 2019 to enable a Labour government to take the helm of Brexit negotiations and recalibrate negotiations with the EU. It could then be from a position of strength, not jeopardy, with current trading relationships intact. We will not be a vassal state as we will retain elected members of the European Parliament together with senior figures within the European Commission and will continue attending the Council of Ministers, offering input in the determination of our own future at every level.

    As the Tories continue talking to themselves they are shunting our nations, our Irish peace process, our people and our public services further towards the cliff edge. Only Labour can now be a conduit by which the majority voice of the people – now turned against Brexit – can be harnessed to salvage the future from Tory Brexit’s devastating economic prospects.

    Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA.”

    https://labourlist.org/2018/02/manuel-cortes-only-labour-can-save-us-from-mays-begging-bowl-brexit-strategy/

    Andrew Coates

    February 23, 2018 at 5:05 pm

  3. Lo que dice Cortes?

    Dave Roberts

    February 23, 2018 at 8:46 pm

  4. What exactly does Manuel Cortes do?

    Dave Roberts

    February 23, 2018 at 8:50 pm

  5. Andrew Coates

    February 24, 2018 at 12:11 pm


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