THE government would do well to accept Labour’s amendments to the Bill authorising it to start negotiating our exit from the European Union, following its defeats in the Lords last week.
If the upper house was bidding to overrule the referendum it would be an insult to popular sovereignty and set the stage for the next step in Britain’s tortuous path to democracy, the abolition of the Lords.
But under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour has accepted the result. Its amendments to the Bill passed by the Lords last week aim to ensure that a Tory government with a wafer-thin majority does not get to negotiate a deal that benefits only the City and big business at the cost of working people’s rights.
The Lords passed two amendments. The first, guaranteeing the right of EU citizens in Britain to remain, is all that common decency demands.
Brexit Secretary David Davis and the Prime Minister both say they are in favour of EU citizens staying here, so why their stubborn refusal to give a guarantee — which would also help secure the rights of British nationals living in the EU?
A simple concession on an issue the government and opposition officially agree on anyway would reassure Europeans living here, their families and loved ones about their futures — though the left should not let the matter drop there, but also demand protection for non-EU citizens who have made their lives here.
The deportation last month of Irene Clennell, who had lived here for 27 years, married a British man and had two children in this country, is no less an outrage because she happens to have been born in Singapore rather than Spain.
The Lords’ support for a “meaningful vote” on the result of the negotiations is less clear cut. Since triggering Article 50 gives Britain a set two-year timetable to negotiate a new relationship with the EU or withdraw without one (reverting to World Trade Organisation status in our trade with EU member states), it is not clear that a parliamentary vote to send the government back to the negotiating table would be accepted by the EU.
Nonetheless, the threat would add pressure on ministers not to ignore the demands of the labour movement — which, as set out by Corbyn in Peterborough in January, should include restoring our government’s right to intervene in the economy through assisting local industry and expanding public ownership.
By joining forces with trade unions and left-wing parties across Europe, the left can fight for a deal which would benefit the European working class — since such concessions granted to Britain would increase pressure on Brussels to extend them to Italy or Greece.
Of course Jean-Claude Juncker will resist anything that loosens the neoliberal straitjacket the EU is forcing on its members. But for all his talk of a united front, his hand is weaker than he recognises.
The EU’s decision to re-elect European Council president Donald Tusk against the furious opposition of his own country, Poland, indicates a stubborn refusal to change tack despite growing tensions in the bloc.
Germany continues to insist on the immiseration of poverty-stricken Greece, with Bavaria’s finance minister Markus Soeder saying new bailout cash will be dependent on yet more privatisation, guaranteed by a pledge of Greece’s last remaining “cash, gold and real estate.”
Hard-right governments in Poland and Hungary are mutinous. Italy’s anti-EU Five-Star movement consistently leads in the polls. More positively, Portugal’s left government would welcome co-operation with Labour on a deal which would give it more room for manoeuvre economically.
The ground is disappearing under Juncker’s feet. The left can intervene decisively in these negotiations — or it can sit them out, and let the fascists already on the march in several European countries exploit popular resentment of the EU and its anti-people policies.