The speech Corbyn should have given on Brexit

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This is from Clarion issue 17, which went to press just before the first of a series of parliamentary votes on Brexit.

“As May 2019 gets closer, it becomes ever clearer what a disaster Brexit is likely to be for working people in this country and beyond.

“I fully understand why so many people voted for Brexit, and the nature of their dissatisfaction with the status quo. I plan to address that in this speech. But it would be remiss of me as leader of the Labour Party and, I hope, the next Prime Minister, not to point the reality of the situation and the nature of the dangers confronting us.

“It seems likely that Brexit, particularly a hard Brexit, will lead to a dramatic economic downturn in Britain. There is a threat that Labour will win the next election but inherit an economy in a terrible state.

“Our social program, which we will need to develop much further, can stem the damage caused by such economic chaos by reducing inequality and rebuilding public services; but we are under no illusions that an economically walled off Britain is a good launchpad for left-wing policies, let alone socialism. We oppose the re-raising of barriers between countries in Europe. We want to lower barriers across Europe and across the world.

“Given that, and given that the only Brexit on offer is some variant of a hard Brexit driven by ultra-Thatcherite Tories and nationalists, a Brexit that will benefit sections of the rich while dividing and impoverishing the working class, I believe the British people must be offered the chance to vote on whatever deal Theresa May’s government cooks up. Democracy is not just about a one-off vote, with the result set in stone forever. It must mean a continuous process, offering real control. We need to get control over the Tory Brexiteers who are driving us off a cliff.

“Labour Party conference this September is our last chance to discuss our position on all this as a party. Whatever position the majority of CLP delegates and affiliated unions ultimately want to take, I believe we must take that opportunity to decide our position collectively, democratically, together.

“To those who support Brexit because they are sick of rising inequality, insecurity, austerity, lack of workers’ rights, I say what I said during the referendum. Brexit is no answer to any of that. Neither is limiting immigration. No migrant worker is responsible for a single service cut or job lost. Employers, the rich and the government that so loyally serves them are responsible for the problems we face.

“The socialist answer is stronger unions, organising all workers no matter where they come from; the scrapping of anti-trade union laws; campaigning to tax the rich and corporations so we can provide the funds to slash inequality, restore public ownership and provide jobs, homes and services as steps in a fight to take democratic control over social wealth.

“We will end the ‘hostile environment’ and say migrants are welcome here, whether they come here to escape, to work, to study, start a family or just see what our country is like. People coming here enriches all of us. We will end a situation where working people have to scrabble for crumbs from the tables of the rich, so that we can break bread together as neighbours and friends and comrades in a common struggle.

“I am no fan of the EU. Look at the horrendous way Greece was treated, look at austerity measures encouraged across the continent, look at people fleeing for a better life and drowning in the Mediterranean. When I said 7.5 out of 10, that might have been generous. But criticising the EU cannot mean wanting something worse.

“Breaking Britain away would be worse. The solution to our problems is an international one. The issue is not Britain vs Europe or Britain vs the rest of the world. It is the interests of working people vs the interests of the rich few, interests which are the same all over the world.

“The British labour movement, and the next Labour government, must fight to end austerity, to redistribute wealth, to reorganise society in workers’ interests. We will do that in defiance of rules the rich try to impose on us, whether in Britain or in Europe. Regardless of EU rules, we will lead a fight to transform Europe, away from the neo-liberal agenda that has destroyed lives across the continent and beyond. That fight will be much stronger in alliance with labour movements and left parties across Europe.

“That is the way forward against inequality and austerity, not the bad dreams of nationalism. That is the prospect I put before you.”

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