Members, not the leadership, should set Labour Brexit policy, writes Eda Cazimoglu
In 2016, Labour conference passed a policy on Brexit. It was robust: ‘[Conference] recognises that many of those who voted to leave the [European Union] were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum.’
Now a meaningful vote on the final deal in parliament looks dead in the water, Labour should concentrate on the rest of that policy: giving the public a say on whatever dreadful hard Brexit the Tories muster. If the Labour leadership is not willing to back that immediately, it should do the next best thing: ensure party members determine what our approach should be as we approach the March 2019 deadline. While the Tories are shaken by division, we have an opportunity to set out a clear Labour path for our future relationship with Europe, determined by hundreds of thousands of people and backed by millions more.
At conference 2017, the party’s new establishment conspired with the Momentum leadership to suggest that Keir Starmer’s speech on Brexit was tantamount to a debate on Brexit. It was not. And Labour conference failed to debate the most important issue facing the country. Labour members were denied the opportunity to shape the biggest issue to shape British politics for a generation. This issue is not about three years or three parliaments, but how Britain makes its way in the world for the next century.
To ensure Labour party conference 2018 debates Brexit, my fellow centre-left candidates for the National Executive Committee colleague and I have launched LabourSay.EU.
If you share our vision, here are five steps to ensure a debate on Brexit in Liverpool this September:
Submit a contemporary motion
After the end of July, any issue on Brexit that the National Policy Forum could not have anticipated can be used as a hook for a contemporary motion. Momentum’s control on the Conference Arrangements Committee means the strictest interpretation of what makes a motion ‘contemporary’ will likely be applied to Brexit but not to issues like Trident. A Labour conference serious about running the country would not just consider motions in one direction but genuinely be a forum for debate – regardless of our various views. This will include pro-European motions, some based on model texts from the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, Remain Labour, or the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, but it might also include those seeking to encourage a Brexit that takes us further away from Europe. We are strong enough to have a real debate.
State the priority
There is no provision in the rules to mandate delegates to vote a particular way – partly because it would make the role of speeches and good argument redundant if every delegate had already decided how they were going to vote. However, there is no debate on the priorities ballot – by definition it happens at the inception of the conference. Whether your constituency Labour party is Brexit-sceptic or Brexit-supporting, we can all agree and that it is an important issue and one of the CLP’s four votes in the priority ballot should be cast for a debate on Brexit.
Join the compositing meeting
If your CLP has submitted a motion on Brexit, and Brexit has been chosen in the priorities ballot, make sure you are at the compositing meeting on Sunday evening during conference weekend. It means missing Progress rally – but it will be worth it. The compositing meeting, however, is not for the faint-hearted. All kinds of tricks have been pulled over the years. Make sure you go in and fight for your CLP’s text – especially any text on single market membership, as this is the nub of the debate in Labour that the leadership wish to quash. A debate on a People’s Vote is also going to be controversial, but conference will be Labour members’ last chance to have a say on whether Theresa May’s deal gets put to the public. Do not ‘sign off’ your composite unless you are happy and a proper debate will take place.
Lobby your delegate
If the debate gets close to conference floor, start contacting your delegate – be comradely at all times. How they vote could change Labour’s whole approach to Brexit, and if votes in the House of Commons follow accordingly, the whole country’s approach to Brexit. Again, your CLP can discuss in advance its position on Brexit generally, on single market membership and a People’s Vote in particular. Again – you cannot mandate, but a discussion might make it clear to the delegate what way most members would like them to vote.
If you are a delegate – speak and vote for the Brexit you want to see
I will be voting for a People’s Vote on the Tory Brexit deal, and in the meantime for Labour to pressure the government for a single market membership deal. The centre-left in the party embraces that debate; Alison McGovern and Caroline Flint can have different but equally strongly held views and remain comrades, and so can we as delegates. This should be the case across all wings of the Labour party on this vital issue – and many others.
If we get the motions, win the priorities ballot and the vote on conference floor, Labour members can shape Labour’s response to Brexit.
Regardless, it is time to be the change we want to see on Brexit. Good luck. I will see you in Liverpool.
Eda Cazimoglu is a candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee. She tweets @EdaCaz.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.