On Corbyn and Brexit I should explain. I’m a dedicated ‘Remainer’, and in fact have become more so in the three years that have passed since the referendum. I accept that the conduct of that referendum was fraudulent, and that its result did not indicate a majority in favour of a ‘no deal’ Brexit at the time, and even less so subsequently, when the real effects of Brexit have become a lot clearer. I acknowledge the harm that this whole affair is doing to Britain’s stability at home, and to her reputation and influence abroad – which I’m witness to as a part-time expat. I would dearly like the whole decision to be reversed, or, short of that, a new referendum to advise whether it should be. To this extent I sympathise with those who are pressing Corbyn to come out firmly on the side of ‘Remain’, and resenting the fact that he is so unwilling to do so. So my heart – and, I would say, my intellect – are on the side of the angels.
But…. We need to acknowledge two things. The first is that Corbyn has always been a critical ‘European’, which is a defensible position to take, even among Europhiles. His main slogan in 2016 was ‘Remain and Reform’. The second factor which must be taken into account is the strength of feeling on the devils’ side. Irrational and terrifyingly populist as it is, it presents a real danger to the country, and to any social and political progress that might be made there under a Labour government. Brexit is not a question of principle for socialists, as neither were the other ‘foreign’ policy issues on which Labour has traditionally split in the past – imperialism, the Great War, the Iraq War, entry into Europe, and many others – all of which can be and were argued from either side. But it has the potential – demonstrably – to divide and injure Labour, and so prevent its coming to power and the inestimable reforms that could follow from that.
Which is why Corbyn’s suggested policy – renegotiate a deal (which the EU would probably allow on the basis of retaining the common market and its rules: remember it was Theresa May’s ‘red lines’ that stymied this kind of compromise originally), and then putting that to a new public vote, with the alternative being ‘Remain’; a vote which would not be ‘whipped’ by the party – seems to me to be the least harmful way out of this (‘Eton’) mess. It would be democratic, and so should appease the populists; and even if Labour’s new ‘deal’ were accepted, would be acceptable to compromising Remainers like me, and probably most of those who voted for ‘Exit’ simply out of hostility to the Tories; while also marginalising the ultra ‘No-Dealers’.
Just imagine what might happen if Labour clearly obstructs the (so-called) ‘will of the people’. Brexiteers are already threatening violence and civil war. It sounds craven, I know; but history shows that neutrality and appeasement do sometimes work. They worked in 1973 for Harold Wilson. Even his cabinet was given a free vote in that year’s European referendum. Today Wilson is given far less credit than I believe he deserves for anything he did when he was prime minister. But he was a clever old stick. Corbyn seems to be learning from him. Who would have thought it?