My mind keeps circling back again and again to a phrase Jeremy Corbyn uses when he’s asked about Labour’s plans for Brexit. Like all the soundbites we get from politicians these days it’s a little prepared speech, and it usually begins with Corbyn saying that in three months Labour will negotiate a new withdrawal deal with the EU which will protect jobs and people’s rights and social justice, and then put that to the people in another referendum ‘with an option to Remain’.
It’s that ‘option to Remain’ that keeps nagging at me, because it feels tacked on, an appendage, and it’s why I don’t trust Labour over Brexit. So let’s play a little game and see if I’m right one day. Here’s what I think is going to happen.
Let’s say the new Labour government goes to Brussels and gets its deal in three months. It took May’s government two and a half years, and Johnson only managed to get a deal so quickly because he Tipp-Exed out the bits of May’s deal the ERG didn’t agree with and the EU nodded it through. But let’s say they do manage it.
A Referendum Bill will have to pass through Parliament. Whether it does or not depends, I guess, on what kind of majority Labour get, because the Tories will oppose it. But let’s say Labour get that through and the country goes out of its mind again.
Boris Johnson and other Tories have mocked Labour’s plan, sneering that they’ll get a deal and then they’ll campaign against their own deal, but I think the Tories have got it arse-backward. Labour are going to campaign for their deal. It’s Remain they’re not going to campaign for.
Oh, it’ll be there, that ‘option’. But it’ll be cast something like this: “Vote for Labour’s Leave deal, a deal which protects jobs and rights and social justice, a shining socialist Brexit that brings ever closer the New Jerusalem. Oh, yeah, or you can vote Remain. If you want. If you don’t care about social justice and you want little babies to die.”
Okay, an exaggeration. I suspect it would be more subtle than that. But lookit, they will already have the people who voted Leave in 2016, to whom they’ll say, well, it’s either this Brexit or you have to wait another five years to vote the Tories back in so they can do it. There will be waverers – and there are still quite a few, surprisingly – who will be comforted to know that it’s the gentlest, fluffiest Brexit it’s possible to have and you didn’t really want Freedom of Movement, did you? They’ll have made a calculation that they can win a Socialist Brexit, and that ‘option’ really is just a sop to make it look fair.
I can see that happening. The more I think about it, the more I see it. Okay, the outcome is by no means certain, even though they’ll push hard at the advantages of the Socialist Brexit and honouring the 2016 Will Of The People. But I’m really not very smart, and if it’s crossed my mind it’s crossed someone else’s.
So Labour get a Leave majority on their second referendum. We live in a time of such cosmic comedy that it wouldn’t surprise me if the numbers are more or less exactly the same as in 2016. They take their Withdrawal Bill back to Parliament with a mandate from The People. If they have to, they cut a deal with the SNP for a second Independence Referendum to be held in 2024 or so, if they’ll support the Withdrawal Bill. Bill goes through. Wave the EU bye-bye.
Trust me, as conspiracy theories go, this is by no means the wildest I’ve seen over the past couple of years. Shit, it’s not even the wildest I’ve seen this week.
Thing is, there’s nothing any of us can do about it. The Tories are a cauldron of incomptent evil led by a dexedrine-fuelled Aryan Honey Monster. A Lib Dem government would be like living in a country ruled by the Three Stooges. There’s no alternative but to vote Labour, which I’ve finally decided to do after a lot of heart-searching. I don’t trust them. On anything. But the alternative is so much worse. One of the great tragedies is that we live in an age of utterly mediocre politicians.
And Brexit? I remember a time when we used to say “Fuck Brexit,’ and mean it. I suspect by this time next year that is going to seem a very, very long time ago.
(edit 28.2.20 – of course, the above was predicated on the – at the time quite reasonable, I thought – assumption that Labour might win the election; we’ll never know)