Looking at Lexit: mission statement

Should Labour fight Brexit, or embrace it? Julian Sayarer and Xavier Buxton introduce a new project on openDemocracy, exploring the possibilities and limitations of “Lexit”.

Xavier Buxton Julian Sayarer
21 September 2017

Many progressives want Corbyn’s Labour to fight back against Brexit. PAimages/Jonathan Brady. All rights reserved.One year after the EU referendum, in which Labour all but unanimously campaigned for Remain, the party finds itself unexpectedly in a position to obstruct government legislation. With Parliament hung, Brussels bullish, and Tory rebels in the wings, the stage is set for a massive Brexit showdown. Jeremy Corbyn, many progressives argue, could and should lead a Remain revolt, campaign for a second referendum, and reverse the national blunder of 2016.

Why does he not? Where is this showdown? Some point to Labour’s fragile majorities in the north, vulnerable to Ukip and Tory surges at the slightest sign of Brexit backsliding. But many others suspect that Corbyn and McDonnell, in the Bennite tradition, have no great love for the EU, and see in Brexit an opportunity for the Left.

In our age of contractions and limited characters, it is no surprise that this “left-wing Brexit” is now “Lexit”, but while the term arouses strong feeling amongst a few exceptionally close observers of UK politics, it remains unused and largely unknown amongst the wider public.

Despite this limited resonance, there is reason to believe that the idea holds some sway within the Labour Party. Indeed, Labour-supporting Leave voters may also have been motivated by similar concerns, without recourse to the ideological framework of “Lexit”. And now the idea of a Brexit process presided over by a left-wing party, previously fantastical, has become plausible. Now people are asking whether a left-wing manifesto, recently so hypothetical, can be delivered within the very same EU institutions that right-wing Leave campaigners denounced.

The bustle of competing arguments is diverse. Gross simplifications abound: some see an EU “controlled by bankers”; some regard UK politics within the bloc as de facto unchangeable; for much of the Remain rump on the other side, the EU is wholly synonymous with progressive values and the common good. We believe the left would be well served by a more careful and critical appraisal both of the European institutions, and of the Lexit position.


Anti-Common Market campaigners in 1975 included Labour heavyweights Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, and Barbara Castle. PAimages/PAarchive. All rights reserved.

Committed to a belief that the 2017 Labour manifesto charts a path in the British national interest, and eager to avoid the wormholes and many shades of “soft” or “hard” Brexit, of Single Market or no, we settled on a simple, guiding statement by which the rationality of this “Lexit” could be drawn into the light.

To find out if leaving the EU is necessary to delivering the 2017 Labour manifesto.

The series will be run by a mixture of editors and writers who voted for both leave and remain, but all of whom would identify their political home amongst ideas generally regarded “left”. It will assess various practical and theoretical issues surrounding the left-wing case for leaving the EU. At its core, however, are the following questions:

- Would EU membership obstruct Corbyn’s manifesto objectives, specifically on nationalisations, procurement, and public investment?

 - Are there circumstances in which retaining EU membership could instead facilitate these objectives?

 - What should be the overall aim and position, in the UK and abroad, of the UK left during and after Brexit?

In a spirit of openness, and based on the assumption that – undeclared or otherwise – journalists and media organisations have an agenda and goals, we state ours to be loosely, with a twist of Bentham and a pinch of salt, “the greatest socialism for the greatest number”.

In this we hope to avoid the dogma that can be associated with “Socialism”, and this project simply seeks in good faith the principles of a socially-spirited politics, avoiding the tribalism and name-calling that has characterised much of the Brexit debate. We aim to be resolutely international in these principles, and will, later in the series, take a broader view of socialist interests in Europe and beyond.

 “Lexit” remains a new and ill-defined term, largely foreign to mainstream discourse. For this reason, we have decided to publish an opening salvo of opposing views: a case for Lexit, and a case against. Over the next few weeks, we will focus on particular Lexit concerns, from trains to immigration, commissioning responses from academics, politicians and lawyers.

Alongside these articles, we will be hosting a mini-series by 'everyday Lexiteers', asking left-identifying people who voted for Brexit why they did so, and what might make them change their mind. These investigations, we hope, will clarify where the ideas behind Lexit could and should take the UK left.

There is already a sense of urgency at large. Theresa May has cultivated a reputation for tenacity: as Home Secretary, she demonstrated a dogged determination to pursue the impossible, and to fail resolutely. The Article 50 starting gun has already been fired, leaving us to ask: which track for the Left?

In the words of the call centre operative, sincerely we ask: please bear with us. 


Is Corbyn’s manifesto deliverable inside the EU? PAimages/Danny Lawson. All rights reserved.

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