By Alan Gibson
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Labour must hold the line against pro-remain centre

This article is over 3 years, 4 months old
Issue 438

Pressure is building on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party leadership to agree to backing a second referendum on Britain leaving the EU. Several trade unions, including the GMB, are either balloting members over the issue or preparing to take motions to this month’s TUC conference in Manchester calling for Labour to adopt the policy.

In an email sent to GMB members, the general secretary, Tim Roache, wrote: “GMB wants to hear from members about your views on Brexit, and whether you think there should be a public vote when we know what the deal looks like.”

The Transport and Salaried Staff Association is calling on the TUC to back “a campaign for ordinary people to have a final say through a referendum of any Brexit deal”, and the Royal College of Midwives is calling for the “option of a public vote on the final Brexit deal to be kept on the table.”

This follows Labour’s Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer’s recent declaration is support of such a policy.

Several of the smaller unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and the steelworkers’ union, Community, have come out in support of a fresh referendum. And, ominously, Unite — Britain’s largest union and a key supporter of Corbyn — passed a motion at its conference in July supporting the “possibility” of a “popular vote” on Brexit.

These developments have given succour to moves within Labour and its key support group Momentum to step up pressure on the leadership in the weeks before the party’s conference at the end of the month.

Momentum is expected to ballot its members on Brexit in the coming weeks, and Mike Buckley, the director of Labour for a People’s Vote, which is organising constituency parties to send motions to the Labour conference, said: “There’s clearly increasing pressure from the left of the party for a shift in the leadership position.”

Buckley’s group is urging constituency Labour parties to pass a motion calling for an immediate General Election if parliament rejects the deal, and for that election to be fought on a manifesto that promises a second referendum, with remaining in the EU as an option.

Some in the leadership, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, says he remains open to the idea, despite warning, correctly, that a second referendum risked “giving succour to the extreme right”.

Others, including shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, warned a second referendum could fuel the extreme right, encouraging people to turn to “more socially-disruptive ways of expressing their views”.

There can be no doubt that Gardiner is absolutely right. But such a switch in policy could also alienate significant sections of the party which voted to leave in 2016, endangering the possibility of Corbyn winning a general election.

It would also be a switch against the enormously popular manifesto that the leadership campaigned on in the 2017 election. That called for the nationalisation of rail and a host of public services, and a reversal of the past eight years of austerity — policies that would be outlawed if Britain was to remain in the EU.

Socialists need to renew their opposition to the EU, a key foundation of international capitalism responsible for not only pushing ruthless austerity into its member countries, but overseeing strident financial hardship on countries such as Greece and defending an anti-migrant regime that has seen thousands of desperate people die during their efforts to flee poverty and war.

Most importantly, though, there must be unity between socialists against austerity and racism, whichever way they voted in 2016.

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