In the midst of the unending Brexit noise it can be easy to lose sight of where all of us on the Left want to end up. We want a radical Labour Government capable of transforming our economy, society and communities for the better. We want industry and business to thrive so that workers can stay workers and benefit from higher wages and better rights. We want Labour to keep close ties with our fellow socialists and trade unionists across Europe and beyond; so that, working together, we can tackle the systemic crises of our age, including climate breakdown, automation, globalised business and the rise in inequality.
There are some on the Left who, keen to move on from Brexit and renew our focus on these goals, have argued that we should just accept a second rate outcome. The softest option, Norway Plus, has united figures on the left with centrists including Stephen Kinnock and Nick Boles. They argue that getting and winning a second vote will be difficult and that the risks are too great.
What these writers leave out is just as important as what they include. First and foremost, Brexit is fundamental to the achievement or failure of the above goals. Any Brexit would harm the communities and people we represent, and reduce our influence in Europe and across the world. Norway Plus would harm jobs and industry, leading to a 2% drop in GDP and 700,000 job losses, making the job of an incoming Labour Government all the harder.
Just as importantly, Norway Plus is not a popular option among either the public or Labour members. On popular choice grounds alone, it is the third way that pleases no one. A mere 24% of voters think it is a good outcome. The views of Labour members are even clearer; 41% of Momentum members support a public vote, while nearly 90% of Labour members would vote remain next time. There is no Labour groundswell for Norway.
The fact that should kill any left wing support for Norway Plus is this: if we want an incoming Labour Government to be able to transform our economy, end austerity and decades of neoliberalism, why would we choose a Brexit outcome that cedes sovereignty over key areas of our economy? Norway Plus would keep us tied to EU rules and regulations, but we would no longer have any say. Instead of being a big player at the centre of EU decision making, able to work with partners from across Europe to transform the EU into the socialist, worker friendly union that it could be, we would be powerless observers.
Norway is no help to Labour electorally either. Polling over the last year has shown that, if Labour backs a public vote and remain, we gain over a million votes and scores of seats, but backing any Brexit – even Norway – would cost us votes and seats. Labour, more and more dependent on Remain votes even in seats that voted leave in 2016, would be sunk.
Proponents of Norway argue that a referendum campaign could be divisive, but we need to recognise too that not having a referendum is already divisive. Brexit going ahead doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Labour and Momentum members who favour EU membership move on. Brexit going ahead would just be the beginning of our problems, kickstarting the economic and social damage that all impact reports have mapped out.
A second referendum is the only way to end the division. Run well, the campaign could be used to explain why EU membership is the best course for all of us, and why Tory austerity - not the EU - is the cause of rising insecurity and poverty. Who really thinks that an economy in freefall and a newly emboldened Tory Government post Brexit will end the division? Since when did ending the rise of the far right mean giving them exactly what they want? The economic harm of Brexit would only heighten division; the only way to make it end is to hold the vote and campaign for a remain win.
Even if we did lose the next referendum, we would be no worse off than we are now. We would leave, things would get worse, we would fight back and seek to build a better society. That’s how politics works. To count ourselves out of a fight for justice because we might lose would be an act of cowardice. We’re better than that.
We cannot view Brexit and the need for a public vote in isolation. This is not just a fight for our EU membership. It is a fight against the far right, against a vision of this country dreamt up by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks. It is fight for jobs, wages, industry and the ability of businesses to employ the people we represent. That makes it a Labour fight.
Winning a public vote will not be easy – but that is no reason not to do it. Fighting for justice and against the interests and policies of the Tories has never been the easy choice. Anything else fails the very people Labour exists to represent - the working people of Britain, the poor, the vulnerable, the part time and poorly paid, public sector staff and those who rely on them.
They need us to fight Brexit just as we fight universal credit, Windrush and any other Tory injustice. We are campaigning for a new vote because it’s right, because we are internationalist and because we care about the working people of the UK. Joining the fight, rejecting the third way centrism of Norway, is the best way to stop the Tories, the best way to take steps towards a Corbyn Government, and the best way to show solidarity with our neighbours in Europe.
Correction: This blog previously claimed 81% of Momentum members support a public vote. Momentum’s consultation indicates the correct number is 41%.