John Rees makes the case for the left need to unite around key issues to end the dominance of the right in the Brexit debate
David Cameron's decision to hold the EU referendum ranks as one of the most politically irresponsible decisions of any British government since the Second World War.
For the infantile purpose of getting the upper hand over his Eurosceptic critics in the Tory party Cameron initiated a debate that was dominated on both sides by the voices of the right.
But the referendum also divided opinion on the left with trade unionists, anti-racists, civil libertarians and socialists on both sides.
There is now a clear danger that if these divisions persist the unelected prime minister and her deeply divided government will undemocratically force through a deal which perpetuates the Tory ideal of a privatised, free-market, non-union, economic model. Migrants will face a renewed onslaught and cherished institutions like the NHS and the state pension will be attacked. Meanwhile the crisis of housing and on the railways will get worse.
So now is the time to set aside the differences provoked by the referendum campaign and unite to prevent Theresa May from turning the post-Brexit negotiations into an undemocratic ramp for furthering the interests of the corporations, the rich and the Tory party.
There is not a single trade unionist, anti-austerity activist, civil liberties campaigner or anti-racist that wants to allow the Tories a free hand over Brexit. Everyone knows that if that happens the chances of electing a left government at the next election will be so much more difficult.
We want to end the dominance of the right wing in the national debate about what society we want. That means refusing to accept any deal which attempts to resolve the crisis on the basis of a neo-liberal economic regime which perpetuates inequality and which fails to regenerate NHS, schools, the welfare state, and the industrial infrastructure of the society.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made it clear that they will not accept either an undemocratic process, a deal that penalises working people, or racism directed at migrants.
The Peoples' Assembly are raising eight issues that might frame public discussion: an end to austerity; a programme of public ownership; overhauling the tax system to stop a bankers' Brexit; a new charter of workers' rights; a charter of migrants' rights; no to TTIP and other neo-liberal trade deals; a new benefits deal for all; an investment programme in renewable energy.
These issues will be at the heart of the Peoples' Question Time - Brexit: What Are Our Demands? coming up on the Thursday 19 January in London with Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry, Steve Turner of Unite the Union, Lindsey German of the Peoples' Assembly, Amelia Womack the deputy leader of the Greens, Malia Bouattia of the NUS, Kevin Courtney of the NUT, and the RMT's Alex Gordon.
The whole of the trade union and progressive movement now needs to throw its considerable weight into the scales. We can all unite around a clear set of principles that insist that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, it must be judged on whether or not it closes the gap between the rich and the poor, strengthens public services, extends democratic and civil liberties, including trade union rights, and combats racism.
A significant factor in the referendum result was a raw anger at the political establishment for its neglect of the hardship visited on working people for a generation. If the result of Brexit is simply one more turn of the screw that will simply create another explosion further down the line.
And if you think the current crisis is ugly, the next crisis will be more so. The responsibility of the left and the trade union movement is to make sure that this doesn't happen.
The political right created this mess. The political left must unite to get us out of it.
Make sure you come along.
7pm, Thursday 19 January, St Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA.
Do you have a question for our panel? Submit one when registering for a chance to put it to the event.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher) and ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German). He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.