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Editorial Brexit delay endangers democracy

NEXT week, if Speaker John Bercow so decides, MPs will vote on Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the government’s Brexit motion. 

Her Bill gives Theresa May until the close of February to cobble together a refurbished deal. The sting in the tail, and the main purpose of the manoeuvre, is the provision to allow for a vote on extending Article 50 and kicking a “no-deal” Brexit into touch.

When is up for grabs? The end of March, the end of June, or even the end of December?

The danger is clear. Every suggestion, explicit or subliminal, that exit from the EU is an option that can be deferred, either for now or infinitely, threatens Labour’s hard-won credibility with its core electorate of working people. 

The serial undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to respect the referendum result has many seats of subversion. 

Some can be found in the shadow cabinet, even among those charged with implementing conference policy. Some on the back benches where unfulfilled ambition ends in speculation about forming a new centre party of class collaboration or reconstituting a Blairite tendency to the same ends.

There are many subterranean channels of communication between elements in Labour and the EU powers that be. 

The Brussels bureaucracy is staffed by functionaries as realistic as they are ruthless and they know that the Prime Minister’s inability to get her Brexit-lite deal through Parliament makes delay their best chance. 

They also know that creating an opening for a critical mass of Labour MPs to join in a cross-party bid to capture the Brexit process cannot be achieved in short order.

However, electoral realism is a virtue spread through the Parliamentary Labour Party and wider. 

One of the most encouraging developments is the recognition by a very wide coalition of the concerned that delay is dangerous. 

This chimes with a public mood which sees a second referendum as immensely divisive and unlikely to change many minds. 

One reflection of popular feeling is the rising sense that a no-deal Brexit is preferable to the alternatives. 

This is fed by the pervasive sense among millions of people that an elite is stealing the popular verdict on membership of the EU. 

This is not and will not be expressed in parliamentary language and has little expression in Parliament. But it is real.

Ideas become a material force when millions hold to them and anyone who thinks that the next stage of the Brexit process can be captured by a parliamentary caucus that itself cannot command a popular majority or a credible claim to legitimacy is heading for a nasty shock. 

If Labour cannot command this sentiment other forces, reactionary and racist, certainly will.

One voice of reason comes surprisingly from among the global elite gathered in Davos. Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, tells us that even the worst case scenario in Brexit would nonetheless prove manageable: “The whole world is running by WTO rules these days” he said.

Labour’s continuing effort to create a climate in which attention is focused on substantive issues of policy rather than Commons conspiracies finds a real response among millions of people desperate for a government that will end austerity for real.

Weaving together the vast array of interests that share this common aim is the job of Labour’s leadership. But this leadership is not just in Westminster, it can be found in every union, every workplace, every housing estate and suburb, every town and village.

It needs to see beyond a full Brexit on March 29 to the next stage in the struggle for a people’s government.

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