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Editorial: Brexit Party defections show up its Tory character

THE decision of three Brexit Party MEPs to throw their lot in with the Tories is further confirmation that Nigel Farage’s latest vehicle is an enemy of Britain’s working class.

This might not come as shocking news. Farage is on record calling for Britain to move from the NHS to a private insurance-based healthcare model such as that in the US. 

He has described “employees’ rights and protections” as a “big problem” and stated that his motivation for wishing to leave the EU is because “we could undercut Europe, we could become cheaper.”

This charlatan first denounced Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal as “a sellout” and “not Brexit.” Even then he was taking out full page adverts in national papers offering a pact with Johnson’s Conservatives to “destroy Corbyn’s Labour.”

It wasn’t long before Farage decided he could live with Johnson’s deal after all, declaring suddenly — without warning to 3,500 Brexit Party followers who had paid £100 each to apply to be parliamentary candidates, and whose money he has said he will not return — that the party would not stand in Tory-held seats.

This about-turn exposed the true nature of the Brexit Party. It might adopt the guise of a single-issue operation, concerned only with the delivery of the people’s verdict in the 2016 referendum: but it is an army that is only ever deployed against the left.

Labour is aware of the danger. For over a week now the party has talked of a shift in strategy to concentrate on winning back the loyalty of Leave voters in the Midlands and northern England. 

Even those who have long advocated that Labour go “full Remain,” such as the New Statesman’s Paul Mason, now recognise that those proving difficult to win over are “often Labour Leavers,” though still refraining from concluding that this is linked to the second referendum policy and instead advocating support for Nato and nuclear weapons and talking tougher on crime as the way to win them back. 

Many on the left, both in the pages of this newspaper and in public interventions from many trade union leaders — including ones who supported Remain such as Unite’s Len McCluskey and the CWU’s Dave Ward — had long warned the party’s pro-EU wing that they were ignoring the consequences for Labour support across much of the country. Too often, Labour frontbenchers talked as if Remain votes were the only ones they were interested in. The damage will be hard to undo.

But it must be undone. Socialists do not have the luxury of contemplating anything other than a Labour vote next week. The Brexit Party must be exposed as the deregulating, neoliberal, anti-trade union Tory outrider that it is. It offers nothing to working people. Nor, it must be emphasised, does a Brexit on terms drawn up by Johnson and the EU.

Negatives will not be enough. Labour itself must assure Leave supporters that a vote for the party is not a vote to Remain. It should emphasise why it wants to renegotiate Johnson’s Brexit deal, and raise the questions around state aid and public ownership that Jeremy Corbyn did in 2018, before its criticisms of the Tory negotiations began to restrict themselves to complaints about insufficient alignment with existing EU arrangements.

Labour has an outstanding programme for national renewal, involving a green industrial revolution, new skilled jobs, a huge transfer of power, revenue-control and decision-making away from south-east England, higher wages, stronger unions, cheaper energy and free broadband. 

It’s a project that will start to address many of the problems that led 17.4 million of us to vote Leave — and yes, it’s a project that will lead a Labour government into conflict with the EU. Leave supporters who recognise the crucial importance of electing Corbyn next Thursday are throwing themselves into the fight to do so. Every one of us is needed.

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