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We may be gingerly moving out of lockdown, but the toxic combination of incompetence and arrogance displayed by this Tory government over the past three months has irreparably shattered our country’s reputation for sound governance and pragmatism. Ironically, the more the Tories bang on about Global Britain, the more they come across to the outside world as weirdly introverted and out of touch with contemporary reality. The EU increasingly views Boris Johnson as an unreliable partner - given his track record, you can see their point.
The chances that this ideologically driven government will come up with a halfway satisfactory deal on Britain’s future trade and economic relations with the EU must be close to zero. Having spent four years placing the delusional argument of sovereignty above objective economic advantage, they are hardly likely to change course with the finishing-post now in sight. Several of Johnson’s closest allies, both senior ministers and advisers, have publicly stated that they would be perfectly happy with no deal at all.
It is entirely understandable that Labour’s reinvigorated leadership doesn’t wish to reopen old wounds or fight battles they can’t win. Keir Starmer rightly places a premium on unity, and says that ‘there are no leavers or remainers any more.’ Britain has left the EU, and of course we must accept this new reality. The Tories have a large majority in the Commons, the numbers just aren’t there for Labour.The long climb-back begins, and this requires the Party to be relentlessly focussed. Conventional realpolitik has it that the Brexit debate is over.
And yet… we are where we are, but we still have until roughly October 31st to call for a deal that is in the national interest and defends the rights and life-chances of those people and regions that it is Labour’s core mission to serve and protect. Let us just think for a moment about what we are losing and who will suffer the greatest hardship: the car worker in Sunderland threatened with redundancy, the student excluded from the Erasmus programme, the doctor and the scientist whose medical research will no longer be funded, creative industries dealt a possibly fatal blow to their continued existence. All this comes in addition to a sharp fall in GDP, reduced investment in pubic services, disruption of supply chains, a sharp rise in unemployment - all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. Whatever the numbers and the polling evidence, surely Labour has a duty to speak up in a situation of such unprecedented gravity, for reasons of both principle and policy?
There are also fundamental questions of politics and strategic vision at stake that go far beyond short-term tactical advantage. Moreover, these issues reflect and recall Labour’s essential values of solidarity and internationalism. We cannot rebuild a nation fit for future generations by standing silently on the sidelines as the world around us is convulsed, and many countries tilt towards extremism, nationalism and proto-fascism - trends likely to be accentuated by the looming economic depression. Economically, politically, diplomatically, and culturally, and in terms of the climate emergency, social justice, and the future wellbeing of our communities, Britain in its new and inescapable role as a third country needs to retain the closest possible trade, economic and security relationship with the European Union.
Over the next few weeks and months, Labour must dust itself down, return to the fight and demand nothing less. We would not want silence to be taken for complicity. Showing leadership and the courage of our collective convictions, holding this shambolic Conservative cabal to account wherever key national interests are at stake, including our future relationship with the EU, and exposing the Tories’ intrinsic unfitness to govern on this specific question as on so many others – that is not only the right thing to do for our country at this critical time at several different levels, but the best way to give Labour the vision, heft and moral authority to win back the people’s trust at home and restore Britain’s reputation abroad.
By David Harley - Former Secretary-General of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament
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