The desperate search for a Labour Brexit strategy

Jeremy Corbyn unleashed a wave of euphoria after Labour succeeded in moving the political fulcrum to the left in Great Britain. But the party has yet to come up with a strategy for the pressing issue of a Brexit strategy.

Bild: von FES

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Following month after month of political humiliations and bogged-down talks with the EU, Theresa May was finally able to proclaim in December that enough progress had been made to move on to stage two of the Brexit negotiations, sounding the starting gun for the difficult phase of negotiations to be led by the Tories' chairwoman. A recently leaked government white paper shows: No matter how "soft" or "hard" the Brexit turns out to be, it will at any rate damage the British economy. None of the Brexit scenarios suggest any prospects of economic progress. Recent surveys furthermore indicate that a majority of the British want to stay in the EU after all. But can Labour capitalise on the current situation to benefit from the Tories' disarray and score points with its own constituency?

Great Britain racked by cultural uncertainties

Far from it! Labour is doing everything it can to avoid the controversial Brexit topic, preferring instead to gaze on at the spectacle of the Tories imploding. The question as to why the Brexit is such an excruciating issue for Labour has been addressed by the paper "Labour’s Brexit Dilemma", recently put out by the London office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The author and Secretary General of the Fabian Society, Andrew Harrop, explains how Great Britain has been rent asunder by economic and cultural uncertainties, thereby largely attributing the Brexit vote to cultural insecurity, however. "Leave voters" were infatuated with the idea of using the Brexit to regain control over a multicultural Great Britain, including by seizing the reigns from the EU as well.

He also describes the difficulties, if not the impossibility, involved in Great Britain leaving the European Economic Zone completely - not least as a result of the status of Northern Ireland. Great Britain is thus moving to the brink of a new political and cultural crisis. Unless the Labour Party is successful in reconciling its policy of pragmatism and emotions, that is. In the view of Harrop, the British left faces the challenge of having to manoeuver through the difficult terrain of gaining the approval both of cultural liberals as well as conservatives.

No answer with regard to the Brexit

But as far as the Brexit is concerned, the Labour Party has itself been entangled in a dilemma for some time now: Although the majority of newly won Labour voters, especially in urban areas, are in favour of remaining in the EU, many of Labour's regular supporters come from that working class strata that is for the most part in favour of leaving the European Community. Labour cannot afford to alienate these voters. On top of it all, Corbyn himself is not a died-in-the-wool European. As a result of its own internal divides, the British left has thus far not been able to develop a coherent Brexit strategy: Instead, the man at the helm of Labour has preferred to hide behind Theresa May, wasting as few words as possible on the Brexit and simply hoping and praying that voters will hold the Tories responsible for everything that goes awry.

This is not leadership. Nor is it strategy. It does not even suggest a semblance of tactical acumen because, if things continue on this path, May's Government may well come tumbling down even before a final deal is concluded. If Labour really does aspire to ascend to power, it is high time that it positioned itself on the Brexit issue. Harrop as well sees the key to success for Labour in its waiting in the wings for the right moment by not only monitoring the public mood, but also being able to come up with convincing political answers on the domestic front to allay the cultural anxieties of the British. Current developments indicate that this moment is now! Labour is well advised to not let it slip through its hands.

Contact at the Foundation

Nicole Katsioulis

Bild: von FES 


Dr. Alexander Kallweit


Arne Schildberg

Hiroshimastraße 28
10785 Berlin



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