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Posted on 21 March 2018 at 17:32 GMT

Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit

The following article was written by Socialist Party executive committee member Judy Beishon for the German paper Solidarity, the paper of Socialist Alternative (SAV) in Germany, the German section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).

A speech given by Jeremy Corbyn in Coventry on 26 February was a welcome development of his position on Brexit. He reiterated that he would respect the EU referendum Leave vote and called for a Brexit firmly in the interests of working class people.

Responding to workers' fears that a Tory-led 'hard Brexit' could lead to lost jobs and livelihoods, he said that while rejecting the EU single market, he favours the negotiation of a 'new' customs union that could ensure continued tariff-free trade and avoid having border controls in Ireland.

In essence, Corbyn was saying he wants to replace the present pro-capitalist EU Customs Union with one in the interests of working people.

This placed a dividing line between Labour's position and that of the Tory government, which under the pressure of its right wing presently rejects any form of customs union.

Corbyn is also rightly opposing the pro-capitalist Labour Blairites who argue for remaining in the single market and its pro-big business rules.

At the Scottish Labour conference on 9 March he explained: "We would want to negotiate protections or exemptions where necessary from current rules and directives that push privatisation and public service competition or restrict our ability to intervene to support domestic and local industry".

He also stressed that a Labour government must be able to stop employers from "being able to import cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions" and that there must be "a floor under existing rights, standards and protections for workers, consumers and the environment".

Improved position

This is a much improved position compared to the one Corbyn put before the referendum. Then, to satisfy Labour's right wing, he moved away from the Labour left's previous longstanding view of the EU as fundamentally a bosses' club acting in capitalist interests, to reluctantly agree to campaign for the Remain side.

That was a missed opportunity to lead the anti-establishment, anti-austerity, working-class based revolt against the EU, with a pro-working class Brexit position.

It also meant that right-wing nationalists were able to dominate the exit side. Corbyn could have cut across the use of racism and anti-immigrant propaganda by anti-EU right-wingers by boldly calling for an anti-racist, socialist and internationalist Brexit.

However, Corbyn's general election manifesto last year contained many welcome promises, including a pledge that there should be no worsening of workers' rights as a result of Brexit.

Now, in Coventry, he has gone further in making commitments to protect and advance workers' living standards as part of the Brexit process.

Also, addressing the many Leave voters who rebelled against the lack of democratic control over the EU chiefs, he said he would "not countenance a deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others" and that the UK must have a say in future EU trade deals as part of a new customs arrangement.

Many capitalist commentators chorus that Corbyn's stand will only be dismissed by the EU leaders. But Corbyn can use his position to challenge the EU's anti-working class, pro-austerity policies in front of the working classes across Europe and expose the motives behind any rejections.

This, combined with a bold appeal to workers' movements in EU countries to demand socialist measures too, can advance the interests of working class and middle class people across the continent. The EU has neoliberalism and capitalist interests enshrined in its treaties and needs to be counter-posed with a voluntary, socialist confederation of European states.

May's position fragile

Jeremy Corbyn has also created the potential for Labour MPs to inflict a serious defeat on Theresa May in a future vote on a customs union, because a number of Tory MPs could join with them in voting against her position. This could threaten her leadership position and even lead to a welcome early general election.

No doubt many potential Labour voters who voted Remain are at this stage still confused about the Brexit position of Corbyn and of Labour as a whole.

Also, while many workers in the UK labour and trade union movement are relieved at Corbyn's latest speeches, a layer of Leave voters fear he might still retreat under pressure from the right and succumb to a pro-capitalist 'Brexit in name only' or even no Brexit at all.

These doubts won't necessarily prevent Corbyn's Labour from winning the next general election on issues like his promises for more affordable housing and for ending university tuition fees, although this is not yet certain. Popular too are his pledges to nationalise rail, energy, water and post.

As well as countering the Blairites' pro-EU position, Corbyn and his supporters inside Labour should make them face democratic local contests in which they can be deselected as election candidates, to prepare the way for delivery of those much-needed manifesto pledges.

Reselections, along with other measures to democratise Labour, would also lay the basis for more far-reaching socialist measures, which we in the Socialist Party consistently call for.

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