The sectarian petitioning of Momentum

Labour Party Conference

By Robin Jackson

A petition has been launched calling on Momentum to ballot its members on whether it should campaign for there to be a vote at this Autumn’s Labour Party Conference to call for a referendum on the final exit deal negotiated between the UK government and the EU-27. The organisers of the petition are hoping that 10 per cent of Momentum’s members, which would be approximately 4,000, will sign it and that this will trigger a ballot of the entire Momentum membership on the question. The aim is secure a vote on the referendum issue at Labour Conference.

The petition is running in parallel with the Labour right wing’s campaign which has the same aim. The Labour right supports austerity, war and other Tory policies, and so closely coordinates with the Tories and Lib Dems. Its main priority is to prevent the election of a Corbyn-led government. Progress, for example, uses the issue of Brexit to attack Corbyn, and its MPs like to claim they support Single Market membership whilst simultaneously opposing one of its key components – the free movement of people.

Whatever one’s view of the merits of a referendum on the negotiated terms of departure from the EU, the petition people are being asked to sign promotes a sectarian agenda, that is not in the interests of the population. Using similar rhetoric to Boris Johnson, the petition rejects soft-Brexit proposals, by implication the Single Market and Customs Union, suggesting these would turn Britain into a ‘vassal state of Europe’. It claims it will make ‘us rule takers not rule makers.’

People’s living standards and jobs in Britain will be damaged if the country’s current economic links with its EU neighbours are curbed. Following the referendum, the option of just remaining in the EU may not be possible and whoever was in government at present would be negotiating the terms of an exit agreement with the EU-27.

Outside of EU membership, the best available economic terms for defending people’s jobs and living standards are those in the Single Market and Customs Union – membership of neither was voted on in the June 2016 referendum. To exclude these soft-Brexit options, as the petition does, is not in the interests of the working class. It is more important for jobs and living standards to be in the Single Market and Customs Union, rather than the committees governing the rules of both. In many instances, such as the EU Budget, environmental protections, workers’ rights and banking regulation, the role of British governments in these committees has been to block progressive measures.

All the economic elements that move freely within the Single Market – goods, services, capital and people – contribute to growth. Separating these elements, with restrictions placed on some of them, would undermine prosperity and incomes. It makes no sense to protect the free movement of people, whilst attacking the other elements.

The suggestion in the petition statement, that outside the Single Market Britain can make the rules, is fantasy. The British economy is small in relation to the world’s major trading powers. Its is weak and uncompetitive. Whether Britain is in the Single Market or not, it inevitably has to accept rules, regulations and standards set by the more powerful economies, in particular the EU.

In reality, the EU sets the highest and increasingly global standards for products and many services, for all international trade whether involving Europe or not. Large-scale or multinational producers do not want the cost of two different sets of products and so adopt the higher, EU ones. The reality is that the British economy will mainly be working under EU standards wherever we end up. We will be a rule taker in any event.

The era of Britain setting international rules ended more than 100 years ago and the country no longer has its former empire. The discussion on the left about Brexit should instead be rooted in the economic realities of today.