Labour National Policy Forum Consultation 2019
Response from Newbury CLP (ratified at 17 June 2019 All Members Meeting)
Questions posed by the Policy Forum Consultation 2019 Brexit document:
(The consultation background papers can be found at: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/consultation2019)
- How should Labour respond to the Prime Minister’s deal in Parliament?
- What steps can the Party take to continue to follow and build on the Brexit motion passed at Labour Conference?
- What can the Party do to rule out a ‘no deal’ outcome?
- How can we best consult members, supporters and affiliates throughout the coming weeks and months?
- How can we ensure a strong future relationship with Europe that protects jobs, rights and the economy?
Issues raised by Newbury CLP members in All Members and other meetings linked to the recent May 2019 Council Elections campaigns:
- Dangerous apathy
- Locally, we are finding in doorstep conversations that people, from a broad spectrum of political views including Leave and Remain, are becoming tired and dispirited with a dangerous apathy building that could be exploited by a government that wants to impose its own vision of UK post Brexit, which does not align with a majority of the country, including both Leave and Remain.
- Apathy is leading to a lack of interest in voting and a potentially dangerous crisis of faith in democratic processes.
- Continual running down of the clock approach that the government has adopted, is building dangerous distrust in government, parliament, political processes, and doubt in the institutions/political parties of the country to effectively lead and govern.
- Uncertainty for business is a concern with notable big employers already leaving the country. This is not necessarily always a Leave versus Remain issue, the lack of any definite plans and agreements means that business planning has become a nightmare.
- Clarity and communications
- We are in a volatile and fast changing political situation. The resignation of Teresa May could lead to her successor changing the negotiating team and dismantling the Withdrawal Agreement. We may need to wait for the Tory dust to settle before taking a firmer view. We have seen the rise of the so called centrist voice, for example the Independent Group, aiming its attacks at the left more than the right, a danger as the narrative they are seeding with the help of their powerful media friends, is to undermine Labour’s clear position and approach that could win genuine cross-party consensus in parliament. Although the perceived potential electoral threat from the Independent Group of MPs may now have disappeared, we now need to look long and hard at the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party (on the Remain wing of the debate), and the sudden rise to prominence of the Brexit Party, in the recent European elections. But there are grounds for optimism in the Peterborough By election which provides some vindication of our current Labour middle of the road stance on Brexit.
- It is also very important to remember that many traditional Labour supporters voted to leave the EU in the 2016 Referendum, and are expecting the Labour Party to honour the democratic mandate they provided. Many of them, together with some Labour MPs, have been opposed to the EU for decades, citing concerns such as the Common Agricultural Policy and plans for ever greater political, military and economic union. It is also true that many Labour members and MPs have been passionate supporters of the EU for just as long, due to notable achievements such as employment/environmental legislation and our trade links. It is really important to challenge perceptions that attempt to paint all those who voted Leave as being right wing little Englanders, and all those who voted Remain as complacent self- serving lobbyists for the status quo, as both are simply not true and just lead to further polarisation in debates.
- We also need to be clear that Brexit is an internal Conservative party problem that has been inflicted upon the whole country. They must be made to ‘own’ this problem and take full responsibility. The absolute Tory refusal to build parliamentary consensus on Brexit in order to run the whole thing as a closed Tory shop, is the main reason that Brexit has turned into such a humiliating deadline-missing farce under Theresa May’s rule. At the same time the Tories are trying to paint Labour as not respecting the outcome of the Referendum vote, and anti-Brexit by not supporting the government.
- Media and anti-Labour commentators which make up the majority of the messages to the public, like to muddy waters by stating that the Labour and Conservative positions are very similar. There is a huge difference between a Labour Brexit and a Conservative Brexit and Labour must communicate this more clearly and unambiguously. This is a challenge because of the complexity and nuances in the position, especially in the current environment that continues to dumb the subject down to binary options by opponents of Labour.
- On the doorsteps we have heard many Leave voters express the view, that in voting Leave they didn’t vote not to have any relationship with the EU, but wanted something simpler and cheaper with strong tariff free economic/trading links, and increased autonomy for the UK rather than ever closer political union. They are at a loss why this couldn’t have been negotiated.
- The EU welcomes Labour’s position on Brexit, and despite regretting the UK leaving, the Labour Brexit is generally seen as the next best thing. Indeed the government is feeling compelled to adopt some of Labour thinking in the hope that they may reach a better position in negotiations.
- Labour needs to build its message of hope, optimism and solidarity to incorporate Brexit, or an eventual Second Referendum, which may or may not lead to a Leave or Remain outcome. Labour generally needs a coherent “Beyond Brexit” narrative addressing the really big issues of our age such as climate change, inequality and social justice.
- Better communication to Labour members is vital, as a significant number do not fully understand the nuance of Labour’s position having been subjected to a relentless, anti-Labour media.
- It would be helpful to create new online tools to encourage CLPs and individual members to continue to feedback member opinions and feelings, so Labour is able to measure the evolving ‘temperature’ of opinion to ensure the whole party is taken along, and counter the opponent centrist narrative that the leadership is ignoring the membership.
- This has come up frequently in doorstep conversations. Voter worries are often about perceived uncontrolled migration, but people are often then responsive to discussions about a fair immigration system which doesn’t deter people we need to come to the UK.
- Labour needs to grab back hold of the narrative. Immigration is a concern to many, but this is often largely manipulated by extreme press stories. The positive benefits of a sound immigration policy are not explained enough, for example in supporting vital services like education and the NHS, and bringing other skills in to support an advanced economy. And that the perceived negative issues can be tackled by reinforcing employment regulations to protect local and immigrant workers, thus preventing the undercutting of wages, and tackling the lack of investment in social housing and supporting education, health and other services.
- Like many European countries, we need to be seen to enforce the EU rules on EU workers free movement (must be self-sufficient or have paid work within a number of months or else return to their original EU country), and clarify that message to the population. But that this needs to be done fairly and transparently, with an end to high visa and other residency/citizenship fees, and that immigrants married or in civil partnerships with British citizens should be given full citizenship and residency rights at no cost to them. This will counter the extreme Brexit message of open borders and unlimited free movement whilst respecting individual rights.
- Second Referendum
- It is important to recognise that Labour is in opposition and it is the government that is in control. This will have a huge impact on what options might be put on a Second Referendum ballot paper. For example the government could offer the options – ‘Theresa May deal’ or ‘No deal’ and, in light of the government’s current relentless push of a TM-deal that has been rejected by parliament on several occasions, this shouldn’t be ruled out.
- With ‘Leave’ being hijacked by ERG and the hard right of the Conservative government, it has to considered what would happen if Leave wins a second time. Would this give a strong mandate for a hard right Brexit? or ‘no deal’ Brexit? And if Remain were to win, which referendum would hold the greatest legitimacy?
- Newbury CLP members raised concerns that the first referendum was not transparent and clearly democratic with a lot of misinformation heavily promoted, along with numerous cases of breaking election rules. There are this concerns that a second would be subjected to similar manipulations. This begs the question, should Labour have done more to challenge the legitimacy of the First Referendum?
- Should a Second Referendum be proposed, in line with the Labour Party members’ motion, it will be important to recognise that this is NOT a Second Referendum on the original question, but a confirmatory vote on the deal that the government has agreed with Europe as this reflects the reality of what is on offer. We must be clear that No Deal has been ruled out and that the other option offered should be Remain.
- It may be worth really examining the Leave constituencies for the likely impacts of voting behaviour on Labour. A constituency may be Leave majority, but what proportion of that voted for Labour?
- Labour must continue to promote its position, which includes a vote so the people of the country own the decision in a Second Referendum or General Election.
- Voting must be extended to all 16 & 17 year olds. A group that has become increasingly politicised and knowledgeable in recent years with much greater awareness of the impact of politics on their lives.
- Reform is needed of the voting systems to make absolutely clear that the outcome of a referendum truly is ‘the will of the people’ with ideas such as compulsory voting, minimum turnout and supermajority.
- We absolutely have to protect the Good Friday Agreement-one of the founding principles of the EU peace in Europe.
- The risk of breaking up of the UK was not adequately addressed in either Leave or Remain campaigns:
- Deep concerns around Northern Ireland peace agreements at risk, as is the risk of a reunited Ireland leading to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
- Scotland too is deeply unhappy with the Conservative government approach, especially as a major factor in Scotland voting to remain part of the UK was to stay in Europe.
- We are even starting to see some campaigning for an independent Wales too.
- Independence from the UK to remain a member of the EU, can be expected to become a powerful argument for nationalists.
- The dramatic rise in far right groups and political parties across Europe is of deep concern. Brexit is clearly seen by the far right, including those in government, as a way to progress their agenda. This must be opposed.