Richard Rawles dissects Labour’s failure to stop, or even in parts oppose, Brexit, and argues that although Remain has lost, the values of Remain must prevail.

So, that was that. We lost the election, the hideous Boris Johnson and his party (no longer really a conservative party — more an English nationalist party these days) won. Naturally the overwhelming feeling is grief and dismay.

I don’t intend to indulge too much in a post mortem here. It is enough to say that while people have some reason to say that the problem was we lost majority-leave seats, it does not follow that being more Brexity would have helped us. We would have lost other seats and other votes.

Perhaps more importantly, what I shall call the “spirit of Brexit” was never one to which Labour could appeal in its present shape. Even while Labour (or anyway its leader) was studiedly neutral on how to behave in a second referendum, we were committed to extending the franchise to all UK residents. We were not willing overtly to oppose Freedom of Movement relations with the EU, even while we lacked the courage overtly to favour them (the only way to get the kind of Brexit the leadership claimed we wanted).

Whatever we said about the specific issue of how to leave the EU, we were not presenting ourselves as a party to appeal to the nativist and anti-immigration sentiments that the Brexit vote represented. Nor should we; nor could we.

Our manifesto simultaneously appeased Brexit specifically while opposing everything it stood for. The voters aren’t stupid. They knew that if they were committed to Brexit as a first order issue Labour wasn’t their party, and that is a sign we were in the right place, because we shouldn’t win by conceding to the nationalist right. We needed to win by advocating other values; and we did not succeed.

Meanwhile something else has happened. To a large degree behind Labour’s back, a huge swathe of liberal, left-wing and progressive-minded Britain has made this the country with the biggest pro-EU movement of any. The ‘Remoaner’ cause is the biggest thing to hit the streets since the Stop the War movement of 2003. Like the Stop the War movement, it lost — and it’s still there.

We can’t stop Brexit now, because a minority of voters has elected a majority government to deliver it (don’t like that? rethink Labour’s position on electoral reform, then…). But we must think about how to respond to the new situation.

Some things are, in my view, unchanged.

We need people to come here and work here (especially but not only in Scotland) and we must not let nativist sentiment stop us from welcoming those who would make their home and work among us.

When it comes to nativist sentiment, we can’t win. “Immigration mugs” didn’t help us (nor should they have done). Gordon Brown was one of the most eloquent of Remain campaigners but his “British jobs for British workers” line was part of an accommodation with nativism which helped to provide the conditions for our present difficulties. There are many others who were rightly for remain who still bowed to xenophobic rhetoric when it suited them. It never worked. Nor should it have done.

The party is naturally focusing on the seats where we made shocking losses in the general election, and (probably in a simplistic way) relating that to our Brexit policy. But we must have an eye to our whole coalition. In the end we cannot be a “Britain first” nationalist party. We have to hold on to our ideals and faith in our cause.

Above all, we have to remind ourselves of the perpetual and greatest question: “Who is my neighbour?”. If Labour is not the party which can clearly identify those living around me and those I work with — Scots, English people, Italians, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, people from different parts of Asia and Africa, from across the EU and the world — as “my neighbour”, we are failing and we deserve to fail.

So: Remain has lost. But the values of Remain must win. For us as a socialist party this is the only way.

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6 thoughts on “After the election: confronting Brexit

  1. I read this and I wonder just how “Nationalist” England has to get before Labour in Scotland acknowledges we cant pretend we are capable of having a Union of equals with them anymore. How bad does it have to get Labour?

    We cant stop Brexit yet? No not at a UK level but we can at an Independent Scottish level. The ONLY way Labour can ever be socialist and successful is within a Country that wants Socialism that aint England about time you woke up to that fact.

  2. A good article until the conclusion when it fails to suggest a way forward. Fully agree that the Tories have won a majority of seats based on winning the election in England by becoming a right wing, anti-EU, anti-immigrant English Nationalist Party. Meanwhile, in Scotland, a pro-EU, pro-immigrant, progressive party has won overwhelmingly.

    So conclusion? The values of Remain did win in Scotland. So Labour in Scotland has a choice – it can wait until the majority in England can be persuaded to change their values before we get a government we in Scotland would support, or it can recognise that Scotland can have a different future as an independent member state of the EU. Is Labour up to this challenge?

  3. Time for Scotland to go its own way. Join/rejoin/remain in the EU/EEA/EFTA. Hopefully then convince the rest of the UK to do the same. That really would be leading by example

  4. Richard would you agree that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum? If the answer is yes then then any democratic party going into the general election would have had a clear manifesto commitment to remain in the EU. The Labour Party UK and the Scottish Labour Party unfortunately did not have a clear commitment either way. This supports my view that there needs to be a breakaway from the Labour Party UK and a new Independent Scottish Labour Party should be set up. Going into the Scottish elections in 2021 the new party should be in favour of getting Scotland back into the EU at the earliest opportunity. Because the SNP are in favour of remaining in the EU the Scottish Labour Party should not automatically oppose remaining in the EU. I think if the Scottish Labour Party try to outdo the Tories as the last bastion of Unionism then sorry to say the inevitable wipeout will follow in the Scottish elections.

    1. Ted, as I understand it, in the recent General Election the SNP and Scottish Labour both favoured a second referendum, and both had come out explicitly in support of Remain in such a referendum if it happened. The Lib Dems favoured stopping Brexit by Revoke without a second referendum. The commitment to campaigning for Remain in the Scottish Labour manifesto was quite clear (for me this was an important policy area, and I checked myself).

  5. As someone who voted remain I have a problem with the recent declaration against Brexit by the 3 devolved parliaments Wales voted leave

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