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THE weekend saw Brexit battle lines drawn up once more. Corporate fashion label founder Julian Dunkerton pledged a million pounds for the People’s Vote campaign, which seeks a second referendum as a chance to prevent Britain leaving the EU.
At the same time former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has crawled back onto the political scene, saying he will take part in the Leave Means Leave tour against Theresa May’s Chequers agreement on the terms of departure.
One or two socialists have indicated support for Leave Means Leave, presumably because they too oppose May’s vision — and they are right to oppose it.
The Conservative white paper on leaving the EU locks our manufacturing, agricultural and fisheries policies into EU regulations, placing barriers in the way of Labour’s radical programme for a rebirth of British industry, while seeking special exemptions for our outsized and unstable financial sector. As the Morning Star pointed out at the time: “This can only lead to a continued run-down of Britain’s productive economy.”
Nonetheless, Leave Means Leave is dominated by the Tory right and Farage’s intention to jump on the bandwagon could turn out very ugly.
The EU referendum result robbed Ukip of its signature policy, collapsing the right-wing outfit as an electoral force — at the 2017 election it received just 1.8 per cent of the vote compared to over 12 per cent just two years earlier.
Ukip voters split between Conservative and Labour, both of which were pledged to honour the referendum result. Parties which opposed doing so, including the Scottish National Party, the Greens and the Lib Dems, all lost votes.
Labour’s plan for a Brexit that protects and advances workers’ rights, removes restrictions on intervention to promote planned sustainable economic development such as state aid, scraps conditions placed by the EU on public ownership and stops unscrupulous bosses undercutting workers’ wages by importing cheap labour could not be further removed from the Tory approach.
But this has been obscured by mixed messages from many Labour MPs as well as by the mass media’s characteristic failure to accurately report Jeremy Corbyn’s positions.
At the same time the far right has been emboldened by international developments such as the rise of Donald Trump as well as racist European projects such as Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s Lega or the Alternative for Germany party.
In Britain we have seen the rise of a street movement focused around English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and engaging in violent acts such as last week’s attacks on two Birmingham mosques, the ransacking of socialist bookshop Bookmarks or the assault on members of the RMT union before that.
Farage is likely to build links with these thugs, who are also the obvious audience for ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic rabble-rousing.
Hundreds of Constituency Labour Parties are debating a proposed conference motion this summer which would tie Labour to support for a second referendum on EU membership.
But rejecting the 2016 vote would hand Johnson, Farage and their footsoldiers a cause that will resonate in many of Britain’s poorest regions as once again politicians are seen to wriggle out of their obligations to the electorate.
Dunkerton and Farage are a rerun of 2016’s mainstream Remain and Leave campaigns: the one dominated by the corporate Establishment, the other by xenophobia and bigotry, with the interests of the working class nowhere to be seen.
Labour made stunning progress in 2017 when it refused to plump for either and put the concerns of ordinary people front and centre. Its bold, positive vision for change is the best antidote to the poison of the far right.
It would be a grave mistake to dilute that vision and associate the party with corporate bigwigs like Dunkerton, who did well out of the pre-referendum status quo, rather than with the tens of millions whose lives got harder in the decades up to 2016. And that would be a gift to the hard right.
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