To build a better future, Labour has a duty to end the Brexit impasse.
Four-and-a-half years of turmoil could come to a close in the coming days. The Conservative party’s Brexit bill is set to be voted on in the Commons, and with an 80-seat majority, Boris Johnson is likely to be successful in passing it.
The main debate that is sweeping through political circles is whether Labour under Keir Starmer should back the deal or choose to abstain to avoid blame after a possible economic fallout. The party notoriously lost a plethora of seats in leave-voting constituencies when proposing a second referendum, if elected to government. The staggering defeat at the ballot box showed the sheer divide of Labour’s voter coalition between metropolitan areas that were staunchly remain to former industrial towns that voted leave after years of feeling ignored by Westminster.
Under the Brexit impasse, Labour’s traditional working-class base has dwindled. The realignment of the UK electorate has seen a large number of working-class voters choose the Conservatives for the first time. Johnson’s use of Brexit as political point-scoring, heavily defining his campaign in 2019 to “get Brexit done”, propelled his party to its biggest victory since 1987. If Labour MPs abstain on a Brexit bill after a lengthy deadlock they could wave goodbye to winning back support in the north.
Starmer’s rumoured to be in favour of voting the bill through. His push towards this decision is said to be coordinated by his senior aide and former Labour MP for a Red Wall seat, Jenny Chapman. Her alleged desire to implement Brexit and move forward as a party has opened up a possibility of revolt in Starmer’s shadow cabinet. These ideological divides are déjà vu to Corbyn’s struggle to placate both the parliamentary party and his advisors on this exact issue of whether to unequivocally support remain. As the architect of the second referendum policy, Starmer is surely aware of its bleak consequences after December’s result. Many prominent pro-Brexit Labour figures, from Jon Trickett to Ian Lavery, must wonder whether the scenario would be different if their frontbench colleagues promised to respect the vote of Britain’s working people.
For Labour to build a mass movement and implement transformative policies then the scarring days of Brexit must be put to bed. The Labour leadership have enough ongoing scandals with the purging of the left and a trailing relationship with trade unions. Starmer inheriting and not solving an ugly Brexit war would only deepen his fracturing party. His commitment to ten progressive pledges should be at the forefront of his leadership vision, not the continuous wrangling of Brexit.
Labour’s detachment from the working-class, a decline that has been happening for some time, has only exacerbated with the refusal to deal with the the issue. Condemning the prorogation of parliament last year to pass a deal, adopting a second referendum as a central pillar in an election manifesto and the exceeding voter support in London’s ardent remain seats has sparked distrust amongst a rural or town-dwelling working-class.
Labour under Starmer, whether its differing factions agree, has emphasised family and security for the party’s future. For many, this would be perceived as voting for a Brexit deal that pleases the older social conservative. The young Labour socialists hellbent on introducing progressive change would likely turn a blind eye to a Tory-led Brexit bill if Starmer promises overwhelming reform to the neoliberal model. The older Labour-turned-Tory may not be so forgiving of a Brexit abstention.
For Labour to resurge as a powerful political force once again, its leadership must be visionary. In theory, the Brexit process was voted for twice in a referendum and an election result. If Starmer believes in the rule of democracy and listening to voters, voting for a Brexit bill to appease an exhausted electorate is successful. If there’s anything substantial to come from his leadership, then ending Brexit should be it.