Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit

First, Labour’s decision to ‘respect the result’ of the Referendum is a choice. It has chosen to respect the result because, whatever the reason, it wants to.

It is true that people believed they were voting for a result that would be delivered. And – although a legally binding referendum would likely have had further safeguards – all things being equal my own view is that Labour would have been politically bound to deliver the result of this advisory referendum. But all things are not equal.

Both the official and the unofficial Leave campaigns broke the rules in material ways – they cheated, not to put too fine a point on it. There is powerful evidence of Russian interference in the referendum. Demonstrable and deliberate lies were told by the Leave campaigns. The promises that the Leave campaigns made will not be delivered. I accept that the assessment of the political saliency of these things is a matter of judgement. But it cannot sensibly be argued that it would be impossible for Labour to say ‘the result is not valid; the will of the people was not discovered by this flawed exercise.’

These factors open the door for Labour to say the result lacks validity. Labour has made a choice not to walk through that open door.

Second, Theresa May is pushing for a softer Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn is pushing for a harder Brexit.

For myself, I see no meaningful difference between the outcome being sought by the Conservative and the Labour parties on Brexit. Both want to trade with the Single Market. Both want to be free to make their own trade policy in a manner that rules out a customs union. Both want control over immigration in a way that rules out membership of the Single Market. In the circumstances I think it is reasonable to say that both want a Hard Brexit. But the point I am here making is a different one.

Theresa May’s party has a very large contingent that is prepared to leave without a deal. Her battle is with the Ultras in her party that would deliver that outcome and she seeks a ‘softer’ Brexit than they want. The Labour Party by contrast is dominated – its membership, its voters, its constituencies such as trade unions – by those who want a soft or no Brexit or a vote on the deal (or on whether to leave without a deal). Jeremy Corbyn’s battle is with that dominant faction in his party – and he seeks a harder Brexit than they want. This is (it seems to me) beyond sensible debate.

He is battling for a harder Brexit, she is battling for a softer one.

Third, Labour cannot win its battle with its Remainers.

The debate on social media between those who see a Corbyn government as more important than stopping Brexit (“Pro Corbyns”) and those who see stopping Brexit as more important than a Corbyn government (“Pro Remains”) is a debate the Pro Corbyns cannot win.

Labour is a political party. To win Government for their man, Pro Corbyns needs a broad constituency. As things stand, Pro Remains are a campaigning group. Their immediate goal is to force Labour to change its position on Brexit.

Pro Remains lack sufficient representation in Parliament. Without it they cannot achieve their goal. So their strategy must be to cause the only party who might change its position to do so. And, sadly, the only way to cause Labour to change its position is to ensure the political cost of pursuing its present stance is greater than the political cost of changing it. And if Pro Remains are toxifying Labour’s attachment to its present stance they are winning. They will be forcing Labour to re-evaluate that stance. If Pro Remains are also toxified that does not matter – or does not matter at this stage – because they do not need a broad constituency to achieve their immediate goal.

(In a better world, the Pro Remains strategy would be to ask Labour to look to the interests of the country, or to the need to fund public services, or to protect the jobs of working people, and so. But sadly we are not in that world).

Labour cannot win its battle with its Remainers.

Fourth, by aligning his position against that of Labour’s members, Jeremy Corbyn is dishonest and hypocritical.

Corbyn campaigned and won the leadership on a platform of allowing members to choose Party policy. He said (you can see him saying it here at 31.07)

“One firm commitment I make to people who join our Labour Party is that you have a real say, the final say in deciding on the policies of our party.

“No-one – not me as Leader, not the Shadow Cabinet, not the Parliamentary Labour Party – is going to impose policy or have a veto.”

Yet Labour’s position is not remotely aligned with what the polls say its members want. And Labour is reported to be battling, yet again, to prevent its Brexit policy coming for a vote before Party Conference.

Corbyn’s position is hypocritical and dishonest.

Fifth, Labour offers nothing of substance on Brexit.

It is true that Labour fought hard for Parliament to have a say on whether to approve the Brexit deal. And with the help of Tory rebels it won a vote on that subject in December. And it was only when Tory rebels capitulated last month that it lost a vote that would have strengthened Parliamentary control.

But Labour has consistently refused and refuses to say what it would do with Parliamentary control. It has not said it will vote to withdraw the Article 50 notice if the Brexit deal is unacceptable to Parliament. It has not said it will vote for a referendum if the Brexit deal is unacceptable. It offers nothing.

The best guess – and it can only be a guess – is that if the Government’s deal is voted down Labour would seek to force a general election. But that vote is likely to take place in late January 2019 (see section 13(10)) and there would be no time after the result was known, and after any General Election was called and run, for Brexit to be affected by the outcome. And if this guess is right, it suggests Labour’s fight for a meaningful vote is more about Labour’s narrow interest than about Brexit.

Labour offers nothing of substance on Brexit.

Finally, sixth, Labour has chosen not to push for a softer Brexit.

To be in opposition is to have a minority in Parliament. This does not stop an opposition campaigning or voting for its policies. And sometimes those votes or campaigns succeed.

Brexit is no different. Labour could develop a deliverable alternative to the Tories’ plans. It could negotiate with the EU to ensure that alternative was acceptable. It could then campaign for that alternative in the country and in Parliament. That is what an opposition does: it puts forward policy proposals and seeks to persuade the country and Parliament that those proposals are desirable and deliverable. It hopes to force a u turn on the Government

Labour, in the case of Brexit, has completely absented itself from that process. It has not developed a deliverable alternative. It has not sought to negotiate and agree it with the EU. And it has not sought to persuade the country and Parliament of the value of that alternative.

Labour could have pushed for a softer Brexit. It has chosen not to.

16 thoughts on “Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit

  1. I am amazed that ANY MP,in the face of the Guardian/Bloomberg revelations about Leave campaigns is allowing Brexit to happen. I can now assume that they have lost touch with reality and are living in some fantasy land where the cries of ordinary families are blocked out by the sound of back patting from their billionaire supporters. History has seen this journey before. In 1930s Germany, when Hitler w/drew from the League of Nations, to enact his own ‘Blut und Boden policies. That went well, didn’t it?

  2. Brexit is going to happen and those of us who voted remain need to come to terms with that. My hope is that Brexit is a success; my fear is that it will be a massive disaster; my despair is that neither of the main political parties appears to know what they’re doing.
    The fool on the Tarot card is shown blindly looking upward whilst oblivious to the edge he is about to walk off. Sums up post-referendum Britain quite nicely, I think.

  3. Pingback: Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit | Waiting for Godot – leftwing nobody

  4. On the fifth and sixth points, it has always surprised me (as a politically-disinterested observer) and continues to surprise me that Labour has expressed so little opinion on what is concretely on the table. Michael Barnier’s speech in April described in some detail what is on offer for the future relationship *even with the UK’s current red lines*. Would it pass muster for the UK as far as Labour is concerned or not? If not, which bits aren’t right and what (Conservative) red lines would need moving or dropping to make it OK? As it’s got essentially only ten points in it, one would think it can’t be *that* hard to form a view about it…

  5. So who then will finally have the guts to stand up and declare : Bugger this for a game of Brexit!
    Otherwise wave bye-bye to Scotland and NI too in all probability.

  6. Good article, as ever. I despair of our so-called ‘representatives’, few of whom have the courage to be honest about the consequences of Brexit or the appalling foreign interference and chicanery at the referendum.The cries of ‘Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?!’ at the People’s Vote march last weekend were telling. Is there any real difference between him being conveniently out of the country in Palestine at the time, and Boris Johnson doing his bit for climate change by hopping over to Afghanistan on a jet to avoid the vote on the 3rd runway?

  7. The problem with the BREXIT process is that it requires many outcomes to satisfy a significant majority. The problem is that some if these outcomes are not possible simultaneously e.g. control of immigration and staff to man essential services. Or free trade with the EU and the rest of the world. The only thing that you can say is common is that the most, if not all, people want tomorrow to be better than today. So BREXIT for most people will be is loose, loose you will gain some of what you want, maybe, but not all. And if people feel cheated on both sides the political establishment had better have a better answer that “well you voted for that” because I suspect on both sides the answer will be no I didn’t. This is like ordering the sweet for the works meal and finding the two options have nuts and you have a nut allergy.

  8. I agree with every word. When Labour Party and Corbyn supporters cite some recent Common’s Votes, for example on remaining in the EEA, to prove their opposition to the Government on BREXIT, they blame their own lack of numbers in Parliament as a reason for lack of success. What, (they ask), do you expect us to do? How can we challenge a hard BREXIT, when there was a Referendum we lost, and we have no majority to carry amendments to the bill? But there has been a consistently muddled message from LAB Front Bench. The ‘6 tests’, more so than the Labours of Hercules, were so clearly impossible from the first, and they have hamstrung Labour’s leaders and back-benchers to make merely ‘sound-bite’ digs at the Government’s ineptitude; on the lack of trade deals on the horizon, the fall in the £, the EU.Leave/Cambridge Analytica scandals and the perilous state of the Irish Border. It’s made them play silly semantics involving ‘THE’ CU and ‘A’ CU. This tactic, aimed at keeping on-side, Leavers and Remainers, has only convinced the few and frustrated the many. They should have been so brave, defiantly defending the NHS when the EU nursing applications fell off its own cliff edge, and supporting the Tory rebels far more vehmently, when the Government’s own BREXIT reports were released, to prove that economic carnage was the BREXIT truth that dare not speak it’s name.
    I am heartened by news that Momentum, young Labour members and many Union Leaders are keen to discuss the People’s Vote at the next Labour Party Conference. I wish them all speed for there is not a second to spare. The madmen aren’t at the gates, they are in the shadow of Rees-Mogg’s top hat.

  9. I agree with this analysis completely amd and with its condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn as a hypocrite.

  10. Leave liars! Who would haev thought such a thing. The Remain camp of course told the unvarnished truth and have been proved right throughout.

    We have a £40 billion shortfall solved by draconian tax increases.

    Unemployment will soar, starting its ascent the following morning.

    Trade with the EU will largely cease.

    We will be unable to travel to Europe.

    And so it went on. Yes, the Leave side made some questionable claims, but at no point could the Leave side ever make promises because it was a campaign, not a government with full negotiating abilities.

    I am not a lawyer and tend to view the breed with considerable suspicion. Very simply, the Prime Minister of the day stated quite clearly that however things panned out, the decision would be respected. He was, of course, confident of victory so could afford to make such promises.

    He made an offer to the nation which the nation accepted at face value at the time. Now there is back peddling aplenty, which in my book is breach of contract.

    The only way we can run our own affairs is to be out of the EU and the all of its systems. Of course we want a ffree trade deal with the EU. Sadly, the EU is determined to punish the UK for having the temerity to leave. Until now, this has worked fine on people like the Maltese and the Greeks. It has even worked on the French with respect to the EU Constitution that was slid in the back door as the Treaty of Lisbon.

    The big difference is that those countries wanted to remain within the EU at pretty much any cost, so the EU could pull its usual strokes in getting deals through. Britain, as usual, is a little different. We voted to leave the whole rotten show.

    There have been many who accused leavers of being little Englanders. Quite the reverse is true, Leavers love their country and their independence and are quite prepared to make sacrifices in order to ensure that we run our own affairs through the Mother of Parliaments.

    The Little Englanders are the remainers who are quite happy to see the country absorbed into an anaccountable EU superstate piece by piece until the entire UK vanishes into an amorphous region of the EU. If we remain, that will happen and it will be interesting to see how the Scots deal with that one.

  11. Great analysis of the situation. The membership of the Labour Party are being betrayed by a poor leader, but the leadership itself is in hoc to Momentum, a party within a party, encouraged by the leader to join for a £

    Meanwhile the Tories are suffering from toxic shock syndrome, in thrall to the ultra right wing who see more wealth creating opportunities outside the EU. How sad we are heading like lemmings over the cliff ☹️

  12. Thank you for clearly laying bare the waysbin which Corbyn is failing us. Worth adding that this makes him unelectable, condemning us to a further 5 years of tory mayhem?

  13. Pingback: Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit: a shadow Minister responds – Waiting for Godot

  14. Spot on!

  15. Thanks for this article Jo, the whole thing is much clearer now. I’m going to repeat Corbyn’s promise to listen to his voters to anyone I can get to listen. And I rejoined the Party to help him get elected. Damn.

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