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Why we need a ‘People’s Brexit’

It’s the only way to dismantle the neoliberal assault on wages and public spending, restore economic growth and bring radical political change, says ALEX GORDON

WHEN Britain leaves the European Union on March 29 next year, a new chapter will open in the history of our three nations.

Despite the catastrophism of much of the state and capitalist media, the big employers’ organisations, leaders of the TUC and other continuity Remain campaigners, Britain will take a huge step towards the future demanded by voters in the 2016 referendum.

The decision by a clear majority of voters to leave the EU was a democratic revolt against the fraudulent conservative consensus preached by Britain’s political and media Establishment since the 2007 global financial crisis.

This was the political lie of “austerity” — that cutting wages, public spending and taxes on the super-rich and big business would quickly restore economic growth. Of course, the opposite happened. Economic stagnation set in as social and financial inequalities widened.

This vacuous recipe echoed by Republicans and Democrats, Tories and right-wing Labour, Liberals and social democrats across the developed Western economies was dealt a massive blow when voters in Britain rejected membership of the EU - the “capitalist club” par excellence.

The political possibilities opened up by the Brexit vote are already starting to be felt but will prove to be far deeper and more enduring than most political commentators can yet imagine.

Above all, the “People’s Brexit” revolt was a reminder that governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed. The two top cheerleaders for austerity and EU membership, prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne, resigned.

The referendum result should also have taught the bureaucrats of the European Commission a salutary lesson — no democratic basis exists for the sweeping powers vested in the EU and its unelected institutions.

Of course, as the EU’s continuing punishment beatings of the Greek people show, the EU commissioners are like the royal Bourbons who regained absolute power following Napoleon’s exile in 1814. They have “learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.”

For the British political class, the past two years have been an unending nightmare from which they hope to wake to find Peter Mandelson or Chancellor Philip Hammond stroking their hand, explaining that Brexit was all just a bad dream.

For the left and the labour movement, however, the potential of a People’s Brexit has yet to be articulated. Attempts by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to spell out its possibilities for rebuilding skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs in Britain have not received the attention they deserve.

On July 24 in Birmingham, Corbyn launched Labour’s “Build It In Britain” plan to stimulate domestic manufacturing industry and regain jobs. He pledged that the next Labour government would abolish the public-private outsourcing racket and protect British exporters who lose out to foreign firms exploiting cheap labour and driving down prices.

Both of these eminently desirable goals are only possible once Britain leaves the EU and its single-market rules.

EU directives require medium and large-sized public-sector procurement contracts to be put out to private tender. Moreover, EU and single market members must not discriminate in favour of domestic producers when buying goods or services for public-sector bodies.

EU state aid rules outlaw key policies to rebuild Britain’s industrial base. Article 107 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) declares that “any aid granted by a member state or through state resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods shall, in so far as it affects trade between member states, be incompatible with the common market.”

Furthermore, TFEU Article 123 prohibits national central banks from buying infrastructure investment bonds from — or extending credit to — public-sector bodies. This is the “people's quantitative easing” proposed by shadow chancellor McDonnell and reflected in Labour's manifesto pledge to set up a National Transformation Fund.

The reindustrialisation of massive swathes of England, Scotland and Wales, in an economy currently held hostage by the interests of global banks in the City of London, is potentially a political game-changer.

Investment in manufacturing on the scale proposed by the Labour leadership will require a new approach to regional development involving enhanced economic powers and financial resources for Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

Among the most successful regional policy tools in the past were the industrial development certificates and office development permits which directed private investment to those areas most in need of it. A People's Brexit would allow the introduction of similar policies in the future.

With Brexit, too, powers in more than 80 other policy areas will be repatriated from Brussels, many of which should then go to the nations and regions of Britain.

Federalism would be the best framework in which to devolve these powers. Any reversal of Brexit would mean that they go back to the EU Commission in Brussels.

Rebuilding Britain’s manufacturing base, decimated by Thatcher and the Tories, will not only regenerate hope among communities that have been abandoned for 30 years, it will also strengthen the working class and its labour movement economically and politically.

If Corbyn’s Labour is able to connect with voters who can see that Tory privatisation is creating an economic desert based on low wages, high rents and corporate laissez-faire, the shift of voters who want change towards a Labour government could become irresistible.

Not surprisingly, finance capital, the Tory government, anti-socialist Labour MPs and the EU Commission see the danger to their beloved free market. They want to keep Britain tied to the neoliberal capitalist rules of the EU single market, Brexit or no Brexit. They know such a straitjacket will obstruct many of the left and progressive economic policies of a future Labour government.

Hence, too, the anti-democratic, millionaire-funded People’s Vote campaign to overturn Brexit before it is even implemented. Nothing would do more to revive the flagging fortunes of Ukip. The only people’s vote needed is a general election to turf out the Tories and replace them with a left-led government.

Now is the time for post-referendum unity on the left and in the labour movement. The call for a People’s Brexit must be made with enthusiasm and optimism, as the alternative to any kind of anti-democratic, anti-Brexit coup.

The Case for a People's Brexit, a public meeting, will be held on Tuesday September 11 during the TUC conference. Local Labour MP Graham Stringer, former Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Brian Campfield and Unison activist Liz Payne will speak at the Friend's Meeting House, Manchester, from 6pm.

Alex Gordon is convenor of Lexit: the Left Leave campaign.

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