The Labour Party’s left wing leaders have given in to pressure from the right to support calls for a second Brexit referendum.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn announced a shift in policy to a meeting of Labour MPs on Monday evening, suggesting it was preparing to back a “public vote”.
The leadership tried to spin its shift on Brexit as representing no change at all.
A press statement released by Labour and promoted by some left wing websites only said that Labour had submitted an amendment with its alternative Brexit plan.
But Corbyn’s office briefed journalists that, when this fails, Labour would support a second referendum.
The move was confirmed by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, who also said Labour would want Remain as an option.
Corbyn’s move does not ensure that the call for a second referendum will go through parliament. Dozens of Labour MPs are likely to vote against it, and few Tories for it.
But the right see Corbyn’s concession as a step towards overturning the 2016 vote to leave the neoliberal European Union. The announcement was the culmination of a long campaign to force Corbyn to give in.
He came under intense pressure from leading figures in Labour.
Deputy leader Tom Watson demanded that Corbyn “address the reasons why good colleagues might want to leave”.
It was a threat that, unless Corbyn gave the right what they wanted, more resignations and turmoil would follow.
And within minutes of Monday’s announcement, right wingers were already attacking Corbyn for not openly opposing Brexit.
Corbyn has been gradually backed into a corner over Brexit by trying to defeat the Tories and the right through parliamentary manoeuvres.
This has helped Theresa May cling on to office, and allowed the right to present opposing Brexit as the only way of stopping the Tories.
Labour’s move on the referendum is a rare piece of good news for May.
It could persuade more of her MPs to back her deal for fear of losing Brexit entirely.
Alternatively she could pose falsely as the friend of democracy against those who now want to overturn it.
And the far right will be delighted if a second referendum gives them the chance to pretend they are the face of anti-elitism.
Meanwhile ordinary people are treated as spectators to a major political crisis.
Labour needs an alternative Brexit plan based on opposition to austerity and racism.
It should champion renationalisation, and spending on wages, jobs and services.
But above all it needs action by ordinary people on the streets and in the workplaces to break the Tories and the Labour right.
The EU protects business, not workers and the poor
Labour’s move on the referendum is a success for big businesses that are fighting to block Brexit.
The Labour right frame opposing Brexit as a way of challenging the Tories.
In reality they want to remain in the European Union (EU). It enforces pro-privatisation, pro-free market rules supported by most of big business in Britain.
The EU promotes the interests of big business and the bosses.
It was set up as a capitalist trading bloc—and it will remain so.
Membership of the EU depends on sticking to its pro-market policies. So, for instance, even though an EU country could own a single rail company, rules demanding market competition mean it could never nationalise the entire industry.
While defenders of the EU talk of “international solidarity”—the EU enforces austerity on Greece and builds borders that force refugees to make dangerous sea crossings, many to drown there.
The original vote to leave the EU was contradictory.
But at its heart was a kick against the establishment by ordinary people who have suffered years of attacks on their jobs, wages and services.
Corbyn had rightly held out against a second referendum.
It would be viewed by the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit as siding with the elite.
Labour plan mirrors May’s
Labour’s alternative Brexit plan is itself a concession to the right.
The fact that it has had backing from senior European Union (EU) figures and top bosses is a bad sign.
It calls for a customs union that would almost certainly stop Britain from making independent trade deals separate from those negotiated by the EU.
Another point calls for “close alignment with the single market, underpinned by shared institutions and obligations”.
This is similar to May’s Chequer’s Plan that emerged last summer before being torpedoed by the Tories and the EU at a later stage.
If Labour decides it wishes to be fully in the single market, the EU will insist it signs up to state-aid rules. These rule out wholesale nationalisation of sectors and limit intervention in businesses.