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We may be gingerly moving out of lockdown, but the toxic combination of incompetence and arrogance displayed by this Tory government over the past three months has irreparably shattered our country’s reputation for sound governance and pragmatism. Ironically, the more the Tories bang on about Global Britain, the more they come across to the outside world as weirdly introverted and out of touch with contemporary reality. The EU increasingly views Boris Johnson as an unreliable partner - given his track record, you can see their point. 

The chances that this ideologically driven government will come up with a halfway satisfactory deal on Britain’s future trade and economic relations with the EU must be close to zero. Having spent four years placing the delusional argument of sovereignty above objective economic advantage, they are hardly likely to change course with the finishing-post now in sight. Several of Johnson’s closest allies, both senior ministers and advisers, have publicly stated that they would be perfectly happy with no deal at all. 

It is entirely understandable that Labour’s reinvigorated leadership doesn’t wish to reopen old wounds or fight battles they can’t win. Keir Starmer rightly places a premium on unity, and says that ‘there are no leavers or remainers any more.’ Britain has left the EU, and of course we must accept this new reality. The Tories have a large majority in the Commons, the numbers just aren’t there for Labour.The long climb-back begins, and this requires the Party to be relentlessly focussed. Conventional realpolitik has it that the Brexit debate is over.

And yet… we are where we are, but we still have until roughly October 31st to call for a deal that is in the national interest and defends the rights and life-chances of those people and regions that it is Labour’s core mission to serve and protect. Let us just think for a moment about what we are losing and who will suffer the greatest hardship: the car worker in Sunderland threatened with redundancy, the student excluded from the Erasmus programme, the doctor and the scientist whose medical research will no longer be funded, creative industries dealt a possibly fatal blow to their continued existence. All this comes in addition to a sharp fall in GDP, reduced investment in pubic services, disruption of supply chains, a sharp rise in unemployment - all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. Whatever the numbers and the polling evidence, surely Labour has a duty to speak up in a situation of such unprecedented gravity, for reasons of both principle and policy? 

There are also fundamental questions of politics and strategic vision at stake that go far beyond short-term tactical advantage. Moreover, these issues reflect and recall Labour’s essential values of solidarity and internationalism. We cannot rebuild a nation fit for future generations by standing silently on the sidelines as the world around us is convulsed, and many countries tilt towards extremism, nationalism and proto-fascism - trends likely to be accentuated by the looming economic depression. Economically, politically, diplomatically, and culturally, and in terms of the climate emergency, social justice, and the future wellbeing of our communities, Britain in its new and inescapable role as a third country needs to retain the closest possible trade, economic and security relationship with the European Union. 

Over the next few weeks and months, Labour must dust itself down, return to the fight and demand nothing less. We would not want silence to be taken for complicity. Showing leadership and the courage of our collective convictions, holding this shambolic Conservative cabal to account wherever key national interests are at stake, including our future relationship with the EU, and exposing the Tories’ intrinsic unfitness to govern on this specific question as on so many others – that is not only the right thing to do for our country at this critical time at several different levels, but the best way to give Labour the vision, heft and moral authority to win back the people’s trust at home and restore Britain’s reputation abroad. 

By David Harley - Former Secretary-General of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament

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It's Not Over Yet - The Last Agonies of Brexit

We may be gingerly moving out of lockdown, but the toxic combination of incompetence and arrogance displayed by this Tory government over the past three months has irreparably shattered our...

There is a small ticking time-bomb that keeps British Prime Minister Boris Johnson more awake than the crying of his new baby boy, Wilfrid.

The Skripal attempted killing in Salisbury, now a gripping 3-part BBC series, was bungled, though a small bottle of Novichok the nerve agent killer was left behind and killed a harmless woman. Putin however wants to do more than punish MI6 or M15 for suborning one of his agents from the security agencies he was promoted from to begin his rise to the Kremlin. He is keen to see his friends like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, or Boris Johnson - populist nationalists opposed to international rule of law, open societies and economies - do well.

For Putin, the entry of ex-Soviet colonies like Poland, the Baltic states, East Germany or the Czech Republic into full membership of the European Union meant the final expulsion of the Russian state as central to the ruling system in half of Europe.

As long as the EU was there and attracting the support and participation of all of Europe up to the borders of Belarus and Ukraine, Putin knew his hopes of restoring Russia to its post-1945 or even 19th century might and presence were forlorn.

That is why he so strongly welcomed the prospects of the UK leaving the EU and weakening the strength of European unity which had proved so attractive to European citizens who no longer wanted to live by the Kremlin’s rules.

In a powerful new book Shadow State. Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West, the journalist and playwright Luke Harding burrows into the details of Putin’s support for Brexit.           

Putin hates Britain, even if the UK is full of what Lenin called “useful idiots” - the unwitting promoters of Russian state interests. In modern times this has been the City, corporate lawyers who hide the illegal wealth of Kremlin-approved oligarchs, arrange their divorces and the luxury end of the British economy which welcomes Russian money with open arms to buy £10 million flats in Kensington, football clubs, or keep Eton and other private schools afloat.

In 2012 Putin told the Russian Embassy to set up a group of MPs called “Conservative Friends of Russia”. The Russian Ambassador held a launch party in the Russian embassy attended by Carrie Symonds, then a Tory party press officer, now mother of Johnson’s latest baby and Dominic Cummings.

Harding details the Kremlin’s efforts to support Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU, which was financed by an £8.2 million donation from Aron Banks, after the Europhobe insurance mogul became heavily involved with the Russian ambassador in London and with offers of business deals in Moscow.

A great deal of the details of Russian meddling in British Tory politics and support and involvement in the Brexit campaign are in a report compiled by the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). As soon as he became Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, moved to find reasons to stop the report’s publication.

They succeeded in delaying it until after the December 2019 election, arguing it would be inappropriate to publish a politically explosive report in the election weeks. Since then they have adopted other delaying tactics. London observers reckon that party managers in the Commons can spin out for as long as possible the full constitution of the ISC until after the summer recess and almost certainly until after the US election. Harding’s book is as much about Donald Trump as it is about Brexit, with a clear and convincing evidence-based narrative on how Putin played Trump and the illegal activities of the White House in Ukraine or covering up Trump’s financial and property dealings in Russia.

Putin’s political annus mirablis was 2016, when his bets on Brexit and Trump paid off handsomely. He may lose Trump but as long as Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings dominate in Downing Street Putin wins Brexit and a weaker Europe.

But as more and more questions are asked about Johnson’s fitness for office and his judgement on so many key issues, the ISC report - which while it may not land a killer blow - will be powerful new evidence of how Putin helped the Brexit campaigner-in-chief, now Britain’s Prime Minister.

During the Corbyn years it was not surprising that the pro-Kremlin entourage in LOTO did not bother to criticize Putin, or link the Kremlin to Brexit, as many had been hostile to the EU over the years. The interesting question for the new Labour leadership team is whether they will continue this policy of omerta on Russian anti-European meddling in British politics or speak out.

By Denis MacShane - former Labour Minister of Europe. His latest book is “Brexiternty. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” (IB Tauris-Bloomsbury)

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How Putin Helped Johnson Win Brexit and No 10

There is a small ticking time-bomb that keeps British Prime Minister Boris Johnson more awake than the crying of his new baby boy, Wilfrid.

The government has announced that despite the delays caused by COVID-19 it will refuse to extend the Brexit transition period beyond this year, whatever the consequences. This makes the chances of a no-deal Brexit all the more likely, with Britain's participation in the single market and customs union (and much else) ending overnight, with no replacement measures in place. 

Labour cannot change the Government's position on this, any more than it can on most things with them having an 80 seat majority, but, we can change public opinion and we have to say the right thing for the country. 

Above all, if this is going to be a disaster, we will need to be able to show that we warned against it. Many economic sectors, the Welsh & Scottish governments, and other opposition parties have all called for an extension. It’s beginning to look odd that we haven’t.

This is not a Leave vs Remain debate. We’ve left, so it’s about securing the best deal possible.

Our narrative should be about Boris boasting again that he can do something by a deadline that he probably won’t in fact manage to do. Just look at some of his recent COVID promises: adequate supplies of PPE, the testing target, the school reopening timeline, the schedule for a workable track-trace App. They all missed their deadlines and now he expects us to believe that he can deliver a post-Brexit deal with the EU by October! (The deal needs to be finalised by October to give time for every EU country’s parliament to ratify the deal.)

But it could also be that Johnson is acting in bad faith, tearing up the Political Declaration (the agreement on future relations with the EU) he signed to get Brexit through and actually aiming for no-deal, so that Britain pivots away from European standards and towards the US style deregulation. 

Tory right wingers fear that any deal will keep Britain aligned with the EU’s high workplace rights, consumer protection laws, food safety regulations and environmental targets. The very reason they wanted Brexit was to get rid of all this.

Labour must firmly oppose this. We made the case against no-deal so strongly (and it united the whole party and beyond) last year that we can’t simply abandon it. And in doing so, we need to also say that we don’t support Johnson’s blanket and imprudent refusal of any extension.

Of course, our main focus must be on the content of a deal, and make the case for an agreement with the EU that preserves our ACCESS (unfettered access for our exports to the EU market, access to our supply chains, to the joint medical research programmes, student exchanges, police data bases, etc) and keeps our European STANDARDS (of workplace rights, environmental standards, consumer protection, food, etc). But unless we've also opposed Johnson's refusal to extend the deadline, we will be less credible on wanting a wide ranging deal.

Public opinion is up for that, irrespective of how they voted four years ago. There are growing concerns in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, transport, higher education, the creative sector and others about the potentially devastating consequences for their sector, coming on top of the Coronavirus recession. Keir Starmer knows these issues inside out and is well placed to articulate the widespread public concerns.

 

By Richard Corbett - Last leader of the UK Labour Party in EU parliament and LME Honorary Vice-President

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Boris Bluster Must Be Exposed

The government has announced that despite the delays caused by COVID-19 it will refuse to extend the Brexit transition period beyond this year, whatever the consequences. This makes the chances...

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