Trying to think back to this time last year is a genuinely difficult task. The Tories had a 17 point lead over Labour, and the government’s Brexit agenda seemed unstoppable. Theresa May, with booming approval ratings, pledged to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. The Tories put the UK on course to leave the Single Market and Customs Union, and set out to use the Brexit process to create a bonfire of our rights and freedoms.
Of course, they went ahead with all of these things – but with one major problem. The British people said no. In the June election, the Tories were humiliated. They now have no mandate to carry out their Brexit agenda – and the entire process has become a nightmare for Theresa May. The EU has extracted major concessions and the British negotiating position has been trashed. The Tories are divided and on the brink of civil war and the lies of Brexit have been exposed. The Tories are cutting the NHS to pay the EU, not the other way around.
Brexit might be an omnishambles, but it is a profoundly dangerous one. An ideologically driven, free marketeer Tory establishment – forced to rely on the far-right DUP for a majority – is ploughing ahead with the most extreme agenda in modern British history. They still fully intend to enact Hard Brexit, and along with it a decimation of our rights and, in the form of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the biggest powergrab by an executive in Britain’s peacetime history. And without a push, it is not yet certain that Labour will stand up and be counted on all of the important issues at stake.
There is no room for complacency or triumphalism. Progressives must fight like hell to beat this government, and ensure that the next government reverses course. As Donald Trump prepares to visit the UK, we must also link the campaign against Tory Brexit to a wider fightback against rising nationalism and hatred, through organisations like Stop Trump.
In 2017, Another Europe is Possible fought every step of the way. We led the fight to retain the progressive elements of EU membership – from workers’ rights to free movement to environmental protections and human rights legislation. Our work on the EU Withdrawal Bill popularised the dangers of the legislation. Building broad alliances, we put free movement back on the political agenda and into the mainstream in Labour. In the wider progressive movement, and in parliament, our research and policy work has shifted the debate. And we’ve mobilised – with dozens of big events, and an on-the-ground campaign.
Tory Brexit unravelled in 2017. This year, with neither the government nor the outcome of the negotiations commanding popular support, we can beat it. In 2018, our strategy will shift:
- On the negotiation outcomes: We will call for a referendum on the terms of the deal with an option to Remain, bringing together the widest possible range of progressive support. And we will raise the additional slogan ‘No Deal, No Brexit’.
- On the substantive politics: We will use a re-launched version of our Progressive Deal to shift the political ground under the Brexit debate on key issues (such as migration and trade), and win the argument for the progressive aspects of EU membership. As well as laying the ground for a ‘soft Brexit’ backup scenario, this work is also essential to ensuring that we win any fresh referendum.
- On the process: We will use parliamentary levers such as the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Immigration Bill and the Trade Bill to fight for democracy and transparency within the Brexit process, and illustrate the lack of democracy at the heart of it.
- On the vision: We will move from a defensive to offensive campaigning posture, developing arguments and narrative around proposals for EU reform to build a better Europe. Preparing for all scenarios, we will develop ideas adaptable to both a ‘full-scale Remain’ position or as part of a soft Brexit outcome.
4th January 2018