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What is Labour's official Brexit policy?

The party leadership is determined the UK will leave. But activists may have other ideas. 

Unlike some, the Labour leadership has never advocated seeking to overturn the Leave vote. But in his speech this morning, John McDonnell went a step further. "It is time we were all more positive about Brexit," the shadow chancellor said. "Labour wants to see an ambitious Brexit Britain." McDonnell also confirmed that the party would not push for a second referendum and would vote to trigger Article 50 if required. To do otherwise, he warned, would "put us against the majority will of the British people and on the side of certain corporate elites". 

But Labour policy, as McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have often noted, is made collectively, not indvidually. Back in September, the party's conference passed a motion which kept open the option of remaining. It read: "[Conference] recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained,” the motion says.

"The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum."

But Labour's National Executive Committee subsequently stated that the motion was passed due to an error in compositing and was not party policy. "Conference policy on Brexit has been misinterpreted in some reports as committing Labour to a second referendum on UK membership for the EU, so for the avoidance of doubt we want to make clear that it is not our policy.

"We have called for the government to be transparent and inclusive in their process and to respect rights at work and other protections that the EU provided. Those issues will be our focus in holding the Tory government to account."

Party activists, however, still hoped to shape the party's Brexit policy at this weekend's National Policy Forum meeting (the first in two years). Some are now accusing McDonnell of pre-empting this process. Delegate Emma Burnell tweeted: "Can anyone tell me the point of the NPF discussing Brexit this weekend if McDonnell has just announced our (dreadful) response today? Precisely why should I waste my time and train fare to go to the NPF if they treat us like this?"

When asked what Labour's official stance was, a spokesman said: "Our support for invoking Article 50 is unconditional but we would seek to amend or influence the government's negotiating terms in line with our priorities." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.