RECENTLY installed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab’s pledge to move swiftly" to safeguard the future of EU citizens in the event of no deal being agreed with the EU invites new definitions of the word “swiftly.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sought to spike feelings of insecurity immediately after the June 2016 referendum, urging unilateral action by the Tory government.
As recently as 18 months ago, Corbyn vowed to do everything possible to stand up for the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, accusing ministers of treating them as a "bargaining chip" in the negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal.
"The rights of EU nationals living and working in Britain must be guaranteed now, just as the rights of UK nationals must be protected across the rest of the EU," he declared.
"It is a scandal that our government is trying to use citizens of the EU, who have made their homes in Britain, as a bargaining chip,” he said, adding: "Many EU nationals feel isolated and believe they are no longer welcome in the country they have come to call home.”
That situation hasn’t changed because, while Raab tells the BBC that Britain has a “moral obligation” to EU nationals, insisting it is "inconceivable" they will be "turfed out,” he repeats government insistence that the EU must match its "ambition and pragmatism.”
In other words, EU nationals in Britain and UK citizens in EU member states continue to be bargaining chips.
This is grimly unsurprising given the acknowledgement, when Raab’s predecessor David Davis resigned, that Britain’s chief negotiator is not the so-called “Brexit secretary” but Prime Minister Theresa May, the creator of the “hostile environment,” exemplified by the go-home-or-go-to-jail posters directed at what she called “illegal immigrants,” that struck fear into everyone not born in Britain.
Her legislation to create this “hostile environment” — the 2014 Immigration Act — lies behind many injustices visited on the Windrush generation and their families.
The likes of Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper have been delighted to traipse through TV studios denouncing the effects of the Act on their constituents without mentioning, or being reminded by their interviewers, that they, along with almost all Labour MPs, voted for it.
Only Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Fiona MacTaggart, John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner and Mark Lazarowicz opposed the final reading, alongside Liberal Democrats John Leech, Sarah Teather and David Ward, Green leader Caroline Lucas, Elfyn Lloyd, Hywel Williams and Jonathan Edwards of Plaid Cymru and Scottish nationalists Angus MacNeil, Pete Wishart, Angus Robertson, Mike Weir and Eilidh Whiteford.
McDonnell condemned “the most racist piece of legislation that this country has witnessed since the 1960s … aimed at setting up a regime of harassment for migrants.”
And the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which he chaired, took issue at the time with then shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper’s description of some measures in the Act as “sensible.”
The LRC derided the provision obliging every landlord and most hostels to check new tenants’ documents, pointing out that they had been rejected by housing professionals, landlord bodies, lawyers, children’s charities, local councils and tenant organisations.
“Instead of standing with them against the Tories, Yvette Cooper has run scared, ceding the argument and choosing to fight the election on a terrain she cannot win.”
Corbyn’s opposition cited the legislation’s conferment of “executive power” on the home secretary (then May) “to take away citizenship in the future and to create a generation of homeless people.”
It’s remarkable that many of those intent on unjustly pinning an “anti-semitism” label on Corbyn today found no difficulty in going through the voting lobbies then in support of May’s clearly racist legislation.
What distinguishes the Labour leader, those around him and the MPs from other parties was that they understood that reality then and were prepared to stand up and say so rather than justify the unjustifiable because of supposed electoral advantage.
Corbyn, McDonnell and the rest have never fished for votes in pools of racism, which is why they have also condemned Fortress Europe.
Primary responsibility for the deaths of thousands of refugees who perish in the Mediterranean lies with the people-trafficking gangs that charge small fortunes to set them adrift in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats to gamble their very existence on being rescued by ships belonging to various EU naval forces or by humanitarian non-government organisations.
But there would be no role for the criminal gangs but for the actions of individual EU states and the bloc as a whole.
A succession of illegal wars, with key roles played by Britain and France and participation to different degrees by other EU states, reduced Iraq and Libya to failed-state status and went close with Syria.
Unequal trading terms with African and Asian countries have also had an impoverishing effect, fuelling the ambitions of refugees hoping to make new lives in Europe.
Brussels prefers, however, to pay the likes of the Erdogan regime in Turkey and approved Libyan warlords to police EU borders, with Fortress Europe the corollary of free movement within the EU.
Such reality undermines the efforts of pro-EU campaigners in Britain — especially those insisting on a “people’s vote” to stymie the June 2016 referendum result — to portray the EU as an exercise in internationalism and those insisting on respecting the people’s decision as bigots, narrow nationalists and even racists.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner has drawn flak from some who have difficulty accepting the referendum verdict for insisting that the decision to leave be respected.
Convinced Remainer Gardiner recalls that, during the referendum campaign, both sides told voters that their decision would “determine the future of our country for the next 40 or 50 years.
“We meant it,” he says, stressing that “people’s vote” advocates are effectively telling the electorate that, “because you voted in the wrong way, we'll give you another chance to get it right.”
He doesn’t actually point out that this is the traditional EU response to votes going against referendums offering further concentration and centralisation of the bloc, but this is certainly accurate, as Irish, Dutch, French, Danish and other voters can testify.
Decisions favouring the Brussels project require only one ballot, of course.
What Gardiner does suggest is that telling voters that they were “stupid enough to do what you wanted rather than what we wanted” undermines democracy, plays into the hands of the far-right and could encourage disgruntled voters to look for other ways of having their voices heard.
The aforementioned Umunna had the gall to traduce his colleague for "parroting this type of thing you hear from Nigel Farage and Brexiteers. Actually, I’d argue it’s quite irresponsible to be talking in those terms.”
New Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw was more polite, tweeting: "I'm afraid Barry Gardiner in defending #Brexit whatever the cost on @BBCr4today on democratic grounds completely ignores the democratic right of the people to change their minds #BrexitShambles #PeoplesVote.”
However, Gardiner cut right to the heart of the matter, countering: “Ben, you should ask yourself why the only people campaigning for a second referendum are the ones who lost the first.
“Precious few Leave Voters seem to be clamouring for the right to change their mind! Labour must try to heal the divide not make it deeper.”
The Labour front bench will require firm resolve to stand up to the wave of demands from not only New Labour has-beens Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell but also the likes of Superdry co-founder Julian Dunkerton, who has offered £1m to the People’s Vote outfit, and tax dodgers Richard Branson and Charlie Mullins.
Dunkerton can well afford it, being notorious for paying his Indian workforce 28p-an-hour Third World wages to produce the clothes he sells at First World prices.
Such voices echo the referendum siren songs of the City, Bank of England and CBI in the run-up to June 2016. As Ricky Tomlinson might opine in the guise of Jim Royle, “People’s Vote, my arse.”
It’s easy to scoff at the pathetic negotiating performances of May and Raab.
They are like gambling virgins in a dodgy casino, conceding choice of game and rules to cardsharps Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker and being taken to the cleaners.
Negotiations would certainly be far more successful if led by Corbyn in 10 Downing Street, but the best way to ensure he never gets there is to saddle him with telling voters that their decisions don’t matter and require verification.
John Haylett is Morning Star political editor. His column appears fortnightly.
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