We are all Lexit now

This is an edited extract from a blogpost on the concept of ‘Remoaners’ and Labour’s position on Brexit I put up briefly during the election campaign, but then took down again in the vain hope I could get it published elsewhere. Today’s interviews with Long-Bailey and Blair have brought the issue back to prominence, so I’m putting it back up again, for future reference if nothing else. Some of it is a bit out of date now, but the rest holds true.

It is no coincidence that it is Brexit which has brought Blair himself back into the British political arena — if ‘Blairism’ means anything, it means being pro-Europe. It is unlikely that he would have bothered had there been a forceful ‘Blairite’ pro-European response from those deemed to be of that stripe. There was anything but. The once Mandelson-anointed Chuka Ummuna may be running on a ‘stay in the single market’ ticket now, but last September, when everything was still up for grabs, he prefigured what became May’s position, arguing that ‘if continuation of the free movement we have is the price of Single Market membership then clearly we couldn’t remain in the Single Market.’ This was backed up by those connected with the influential Blue Labour faction, as well as fellow ‘moderate’ Rachel Reeves, who claimed that her constituency in Leeds would literally go up in flames if free movement continued. Ending free movement was also at the centre of Gerard Coyne’s Old Right challenge to Len McCluskey for the Unite leadership (although McCluskey himself held basically the same position). These interventions, made in full knowledge that the EU regards free movement and single market membership as two sides of the same coin, all took place before May’s announcement that Britain would be leaving the single market in January. They thus paved the way for her argument that full withdrawal was the only way to ‘respect the result’ as much, if not more, than anything Corbyn did.

The few politicians willing to articulate what should have been axiomatic in Britain’s post-referendum deliberations — leaving the single market was not on the ballot paper; it will be economically devastating; free movement is not the cause of Britain’s economic problems; it is necessary for single market membership — were a handful of Tory ‘Remainers’ and discredited Lib Dems, a few London Labour MPs and, to her credit, Liz Kendall. Abandoned by the mainstream centre-left, this fragile coalition has long since crumbled under May’s ‘crush the saboteurs’ offensive. The result is a ridiculous situation where the only people now making what should be eminently noncontroversial points are Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, George Osborne and a motley crew of pompous Twitter personalities granted a disproportionately high political platform by default. This rather queasy combination has made the sobriquet ‘Remoaner’ synonymous with elitist, sneering ‘globalists’, ambivalent at best to war and austerity, and woefully out of touch with both the endearingly racist ‘real people’ who have been ‘left behind by globalisation’ and the socialist wonderland that will be built after ‘Lexit’.

The extent to which such caricatures have been internalised by Remain voters on the left is evident in the virtual dearth of opposition to the increasingly aggressive Lexit line being pushed by Corbyn media outriders such as Paul Mason and Aaron Bastani. An uncompromising defence of free movement of people, or the recognition of the capitalist rationality of remaining in the single market and customs union, is now enough within Corbynite circles to warrant being publicly shamed as a dreaded ‘liberal’ or ‘centrist’. The only way to avoid such a fate is to expunge oneself of original ‘Remoaner’ sin through a Damascene conversion to the Lexit creed. Only then is it possible, like Rebecca Long-Bailey this morning, to dress up hardright Tory lines about clamping down on immigration and the joys of global ‘free trade deals’ as authentic ‘left’ positions. ‘Have your cake and eat it’, indeed.

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