The buccaneer politics of Johnson’s deal has to be fought tooth-and-nail, argues Chris Nineham
There will be widespread frustration that ‘Super Saturday’ failed to bring any kind of resolution to the Brexit agony. Tory MP Oliver Letwin’s successful amendment to Boris Johnson’s exit bill had the effect of creating a new delay. Johnson’s bill will now be voted on next week, probably Tuesday.
The amendment was designed to force Johnson to ask the EU for an extension of the negotiating period by Saturday night at 11pm, so ruling out all chance of a No Deal Brexit.
A No-deal Brexit would indeed be extremely unpleasant, but few are going to be thanking Labour for helping to create more delay by voting for this amendment. The problem is the whole strategy of prioritising the blocking of a No-deal over all other considerations has not been a success.
For a start it is now clear to everyone that, whatever many in the Remain opposition have been saying, crashing out with a no-deal was not Johnson’s Plan A. Not only that he has shown that he is capable of getting a deal with the European leaders.
This means that whether or not Johnson gets his deal through parliament on Tuesday, his position has been strengthened. Those who counselled delaying a general election because Johnson was bound to fail have been proved wrong. He can now call an election on the basis of having successfully negotiated a deal or complaining that Labour and other opponents in parliament have blocked the people’s will. Recent delaying tactics based around a no deal will give credibility to these claims.
Labour would have been much better to take the initiative a few weeks back when Johnson was weakened by stalled negotiations by calling a vote of no confidence and demanding an election. It could then have gone to the country on the basis of negotiating a good deal for working people. Its recent association with Remain-at-all-cost politicians means it is more and more seen as being fully in the establishment Remain camp.
The fact that John McDonnell has joined other Labour speakers at the People’s Vote demonstration can only reinforce this impression. McDonnell spoke alongside Michael Heseltine, Jo Swinson and Dominic Grieve, as well as video appearances from Tony Blair and John Major. His appearance is in danger of associating even the Labour left with the centrist Remain campaign, whose position is backed by the bulk of British business. Corbyn’s successes have been based on expressing a widespread anti-establishment mood. If the radicalism gets lost the project will fail.
On the critical questions of workers’ rights and the environment, Johnson’s proposal is significantly worse even than Theresa May’s. It actually reverses the UK government’s right to lower labour law standards while May’s version at least spoke of maintaining ‘level playing field arrangements’. Johnson has been clear that he sees the deal as opening the way to a bonfire of regulations effecting environmental, food and safety standards too.
These are the issues that Labour needs to be fighting on. It urgently needs to stop kowtowing to the agenda of politicians and interests who want to overturn the results of the referendum and who are deeply hostile to Corbyn’s project.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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