Brendan O’Neill

Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit betrayal is complete | 26 February 2019

Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit betrayal is complete | 26 February 2019
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Let us consider the gravity of Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement that Labour will push for a second referendum. In siding with the so-called People’s Vote lobby, Corbyn has betrayed Labour’s traditional working-class base, who tend to favour leaving the EU. He has betrayed his party’s own manifesto in the 2017 general election, which promised to respect the outcome of the referendum. He has betrayed his old Labour mentors, most notably his hero Tony Benn, who was the left’s most articulate critic of the EU. And he has betrayed himself. He has betrayed his own longstanding and correct belief that the EU is an illiberal, undemocratic, anti-worker outrage of an institution. Has any politician ever betrayed so many people in such a short space of time? 

Labour has confirmed that if it fails to win the approval of the Commons for its own version of Brexit — which it almost certainly will  — then it will push for a public vote. For a vote in which people will have a choice between some kind of Brexit and Remain. So: a second referendum. A reboot. A do-over. A cajoling of the ignorant masses to rethink the apparently imbecilic, racist decision we made in 2016 and to give the ‘right’ answer this time. As Emily Thornberry has confirmed, Remain would be an option in a Labour-backed second referendum and the Labour Party would actively campaign for Remain. Consider what this means: in defiance of the largest democratic vote in UK history, in defiance of millions of its own voters, Labour would knowingly campaign for the opposite of the thing that 17.4m of us voted for in 2016. It would campaign to ensure that our choice, our democratic choice, was never enacted. Anyone in Labour who believes in democracy must now seriously consider leaving this anti-democratic party.

Amazingly, it gets worse. Thornberry says that if she gets her way, the choice in a second referendum would be between whatever final deal Theresa May comes up with and staying in the EU as we were. Everyone, including Thornberry herself, knows what this would mean: it would mean the removal of leaving the EU as an option for British voters. May’s deal, we know, will be BRINO (Brexit In Name Only). It will be Remain by another name, where we will likely remain bound to customs unions arrangements and still not in control of our trading decisions and other sovereign matters. Thornberry wants to take off the table the political idea that has commanded greater public support than any other political idea in UK history — Brexit. This would represent the end of the democratic era itself. It would signify the willingness of the political establishment to overthrow the democratic will if it considers the people’s choices to be stupid or unappetising. It would raise the question of why any of us should ever bother voting again.

In Thornberry’s crowing about a second referendum we can see very clearly what Labour has become. Here we have an actual Lady — Lady Nugee — dictating to the vulgar little people, including to those old, rough Labour voters who clearly didn’t get the memo about Labour now being woke and super pro-EU. This Lady, in her spectacularly condescending tone, is essentially telling the throng that they behaved in such a pig-ignorant manner in the first referendum that they must now be forced to vote in a new referendum in which the thing they voted for in 2016 will no longer be an option. Such spectacular elitism. Such disturbing snobbery. And not remotely surprising from the woman who once had to resign from Labour’s shadow government because she took the mick out of a house in Rochester that had a St George’s flag in the window and white van parked outside. It is difficult to overstate how much the new rulers of Labour despise the working classes.

This is what Labour’s backing of a second referendum really speaks to: its growing separation from, and disdain for, traditional Labour voters. Under Corbyn the membership of Labour has become even more bourgeois and middle class than it was under Tony Blair. Eighty-two per cent of Momentum members think Brexit will make things worse in the UK. A paltry 17 per cent of them are opposed to a second referendum. Among working-class Labour voters, in stark contrast, very significant numbers back Brexit. Sixty-one per cent of Labour constituencies voted Brexit. The strongest support for Brexit was among people in social housing, people with no formal education, and people who earn less than £1,200 a month. Let’s be real about this: the woke bourgeoisie that has taken over the Labour Party in recent years now stands in direct opposition to the people upon whose backs Labour was built.

Labour’s backing of a second referendum is as significant a moment as its rebranding of Clause IV was in 1995. For it confirms that a party founded to represent the interests of working-class people no longer does that. Labour has made its choice — it has decided to line up with its new, wealthier, hipper, urban supporters over its pesky working-class backers. It has effectively decreed that keeping its middle-class cheerleaders happy is more important than listening to poorer voters and standing up for the ideal of democracy.