Why Labour must become the party of ‘Remain and Reform’

A ‘Remain and Reform’ message is the key to Labour winning the next general election, to ending Brexit, and to finishing Tory dominance of our politics.

Remain on its own is not enough – we have to talk about the reform that’s needed in the EU and the UK; by doing so offering voters the hope that the change they want can be realised.

If the new Tory leader fails to deliver Brexit, the Conservative Party will split asunder. But to win the subsequent battle we need to win public opinion on Brexit.

More than money

Any argument to Remain in the EU cannot be simply based on a cold economic calculation that households are a few thousand pounds a year better off if we stay. Nor can it be based on an argument that the EU is flawed, but being out is so much worse so we had better make the best of a bad job.

Instead we need to argue for Remain on the basis that membership of the EU has resulted in significant benefits for the UK, and all who make their home here, that goes far beyond mere financial gain.

Tangible benefits like peace in Europe for more than 70 unprecedented years; the ability to partner with our European allies on the biggest issues of our age, including climate chaos, the rise of automation and AI, and the increasing threats to our way of life from a belligerent Russia and a repressive China; the ability to partner on security, education and scientific research that benefit all of us and enrich our lives in ways that go far beyond a simple economic transaction.

This positive argument to Remain is best made from the progressive left in Britain, who can claim common cause with socialists from across the continent. Those who, like us, wish to see an end to climate chaos, to regional inequality and to poverty, and to ensure that safety standards and workers’ rights are not cast aside in a rush for trade agreements with the US and others.

A better EU

But we also need to make a progressive argument for the UK helping to reform the EU. July’s example of national leaders ignoring the lead candidates put forward by parties for President of the Commission during the European election campaign – and plucking a new name out of the hat as a ‘compromise’ – was hardly edifying for those of us who want to see a fully democratic EU.

Equally, the bloc’s inability to deal with inward migration from North Africa and the Middle East is another evident point of concern. Progressives need to be at the heart of these debates.

We must also take into account the reforms needed in the UK. Many of the grievances felt by Labour Leave voters are problems created by Westminster, not by Brussels.

It is Westminster that has failed to resolve regional inequality in the UK; that has failed to develop an economic policy that would see decent wage rises in the last decade; and that has failed to build enough houses to meet the needs of a growing population.

Reform is the frame through which Labour can argue for both for our EU membership and for an end to Conservative Government. Remain and Reform provides the clear story the party and the country needs to hear. It is a message of hope that cannot be told by an unrelentingly negative right. Reform can only be led by the progressive left.

The Brexit debate has over recent months become more polarised, rather than less. Committed Leave voters have flocked to the Tories and the Brexit Party, while Remainers have sought the clarity offered by the Lib Dems, Greens and SNP. What could be, before May, written off as aberrant polls was proved by the cold hard fact of the local and European election results, which saw Labour fall to a mere 14%. There is no escaping that voters wanted clarity on Brexit – one way or another.

The Leave myth

Despite this, the belief that to win Leave seats Labour needs to continue to make a play for Leave votes persists in certain circles, with some equivocation about what Labour might do in government. The facts do not support this theory.

In a Leave voting seat that is a Conservative / Labour marginal it is certain that a large majority of Labour voters voted Remain. Three years on, any Leave voters that Labour still has – and it’s a fact that we have them – are likely more wedded to our party than they are to Leave. We are now in far more danger of losing large numbers of Remain voters to the Lib Dems and others than we are to losing more Leave voters. Getting this right is our only route to power, and to ending the disaster that Brexit has become.

The fact that the Brexiters, and hence the Tories, are only offering job losses, less safe communities and reduced ability to challenge the world’s bad guys, means that Labour has an open door to offer a more hopeful, and crucially achievable, future. The mantle of ‘Remain and Reform’ is Labour’s means to offer that future.  

Remain and Reform is a new think tank which aims to provide the space for discussions on how progressive and radical Remain and Reform policy can transform the UK and Europe to the benefit of all.

Mike Buckley is Director of Remain and Reform. Richard Corbett is Leader of Labour MEPs in the European Parliament. Jude Kirton-Darling is a Labour MEP.

9 Responses to “Why Labour must become the party of ‘Remain and Reform’”

  1. wg

    This is total hogwash.

    The EU hasn’t been in existence for 70 years – so could not have prevented wars for that time. The EU can not erase the work and sacrifice of NATO – no matter how they try.

    The EU may have been of benefit to some in the UK, but not all.
    The exploitation of the workers of poorer countries at the expense of flatlining wages and deteriorating working conditions in the UK has only been beneficial to a corporate elite.

    Even if one were to believe the CO2 ‘climate’ nonsense, the EU’s handling of the so-described crisis has been abysmal and has resulted in more harm being done than good.

    How has the EU helped inequality: it has exploited that inequality to the nth degree – with average EU youth unemployment now at 14%.

    Which brings me on to another point: the EU has never struggled to control immigration from Africa, or anywhere else – it has actually encouraged it for its own corporate reasons. In the early noughties the EU made it known that it required 75million people to come in from outside the EU.

    How has that benefitted the 40% of unemployed Greek youths?

    As for reforming the democratic process – Mr Corbett has been at the centre of controlling and marginalising any political party that countered the EU’s federalist aims.
    The Lisbon Treaty was an affront to the democratic process: so much so that when Ireland were having a referendum on the LT, Corbett and the usual culprits voted against recognising a NO vote.

    The EU has been a regressive step for most who have become enmeshed by it; corporatist, anti-democratic, and committed to growing its own power and wealth.

    Left Foot Forward may be bedazzled by the propaganda of the individuals above, but most of us aren’t.

  2. Cole

    So many right wingers posting here – plus some pretending to be left wing socialists. Haven’t they something better to do?

  3. jon rimmington

    Interesting that such a calmly sensible – and socialist – post should invite such vitriol from the clearly rattled right and the floundering old guard of labour voters who should by now know better. The general dtrift of the post is quite correct…. I can’t see that there is any viable altenative, and I’m an old LP member and ardent trade unionist.

  4. Gary

    Regardless of how you or I may feel about Brexit we have already had the result and already had a Commons vote in which the Labour Party voted to agree to implement the result.

    If Labour were to gain power before we leave the EU then obviously it can put forward different forms of deals to the public and allow them to choose. However, were Labour to reverse it’s stance and revoke Article 50 or even put Remain on a ballot it would be overturning the result of a democratic vote and reneging on it’s agreement to implement the will of the public.

    Despite media reports the country is not ‘divided’ by this at all. The 99% are plainly sick of hearing about Brexit. Those who voted Remain have, in the majority, accepted that this was a democratic vote and expect the government of the day to implement it. There is little support for running another referendum – even among Remain voters. What confidence could anyone ever have in politics again if they overturn results they don’t like?

    In the Irish Independence Referendum and the Scottish Devolution Referendum (1979) governments DID act in an anti-democratic way. On both occasions they got round this by having legislation in place beforehand to ‘rig’ the result. Overturning Brexit would be the first time anything so boldly undemocratic had been done, and to the UK as a whole this time.

    It wouldn’t just undermine politics, it would kill Labour. Many lifelong Labour voters (perhaps not members) voted Leave, how could they countenance voting for Labour if the party was promising to overturn a democratic result on such an important and firmly held belief?

    The party should stay the course on it’s current policy. I know it’s not snappy and requires explaining but it is coherent, sensible and above all respectful of democracy. To overturn this would simply be undemocratic.

    I’m making no argument that Brexit is a good thing, it isn’t. But neither is rigging votes or overturning them either. This would be a massive backward step for our country’s political landscape…

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