Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit: a shadow Minister responds

Paul Blomfield, Shadow DExEU Minister, emailed to a constituent this response to my criticism of Labour policy on Brexit. He has indicated he is happy for it to be made public. I don’t intend to respond to it here. My views remain as expressed. But it is obviously desirable, in a week in which support for Labour amongst those who voted Remain in 2016 has dropped 7% (figures here and here), that Labour does its best to address perceptions it is now the party of Hard Brexit.


I campaigned tirelessly for a vote to remain in the European Union and was bitterly disappointed by the result. However, for the reasons I outlined on Saturday, I accept the result of the referendum and see my role as preventing an extreme Tory Brexit. In the sense that the referendum was, like all referenda in the UK are, advisory, Mr Maugham is right that Labour made a choice to respect the result. I do not pretend that I think that Brexit is a positive thing for the country, however, I fear that there would be serious detrimental impacts for faith in our democratic institutions if we were simply to ignore the referendum result and I believe we must mitigate the damage as much as possible. I believe that we should remain as closely allied to the EU as possible and made that point in an article for the Yorkshire Post.

As regards his argument that we should challenge it on grounds of validity. I have been following the allegations about Russian interference in the election and have challenged lies about Brexit, both during it and those made by the Government since it. If a breach of electoral law is found to have occurred, the appropriate sanctions should be taken, of which the rerunning of the vote is not one. Any misuse of data is a serious breach that must be investigated and dealt with, but it does not necessarily follow that they affected the referendum result.

I do not accept his rather strained argument that Theresa May wants a softer Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn wants a harder Brexit. Even he goes on beyond his top line to elaborate, saying that he means in comparison to party members’ and MPs’ wishes. It is not right to say that there is ‘no meaningful difference between the outcome being sought by the Conservative and Labour parties on Brexit’. He also says: ‘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.’ Firstly, it is not true to say we do not want a customs union. On the contrary, in February Jeremy Corbyn set out our vision of a comprehensive customs union with the EU replicating current arrangements. This is in direct contrast to the Government. I spoke about this recently, which you can read here. Moreover, it is somewhat misleading to suggest that our stance on the Single Market is identical to that of the Government’s. We have made clear we want the closest possible relationship with the Single Market, accepting jurisdiction of the CJEU and seeking continued membership of the agencies and programmes we have built together over forty-five years. Therefore I strongly challenge his sixth point that “Labour has chosen not to push for a softer Brexit.”

He goes on to argue that, in our attempts to secure a meaningful vote for Parliament, we have “consistently refused and refuses to say what it would do with Parliamentary control […] It offers nothing”. As you can see from these speeches on the amendment that my colleagues, Matthew Pennycook, and Shadow Secretary of State, Keir Starmer, have made on it, our position was that, in the event that Parliament rejects the deal on offer, it should be for Parliament to determine the next steps, whatever they may be. I do not think it would be wise for us to commit to a certain path at this stage, when we don’t know what the final deal will look like. We have been clear that we would vote it down if it does not meet our six tests. He guesses that we would seek to force a general election and that may come to pass but, due to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, an early election can only take place before 2022 if at least two-thirds of the House votes for one or if a motion of no confidence is passed and an alternative government is not confirmed by the Commons within fourteen days.

I do not follow his argument, “Labour cannot win its battle with its Remainers”. I agree that the party membership has a vital role to play and Conference is the policy-making body of the party. I have taken part in a number of meetings like that on Saturday and I have visited a number of CLPs to discuss our policies with members and want to ensure members’ views influence and shape our policy. That is how we can ensure that members have a “real say, the final say in deciding on the policies of our party”, as Jeremy said.

I hope that I have demonstrated why I disagree with the author’s view that we are pursuing a hard Brexit and that, on the contrary, we are actively opposing a disastrous Tory Brexit and a ‘no deal’ scenario and, if we were in Government, we would be seeking the closest possible relationship with the EU as partners, if no longer as members.

8 thoughts on “Six thoughts on Labour and Brexit: a shadow Minister responds

  1. “I fear that there would be serious detrimental impacts for faith in our democratic institutions if we were simply to ignore the referendum result ”

    This is fundamentally wrong.

    – Knowing the impact of the Governments insistence that the referendum was to be ‘advisory’ only;not in the general sense that ALL referendums are advisory, but specifically;that ‘this’ referendum was a mere exercise to test public opinion.
    – Knowing then, that Cameron’s later pronouncement that the (his) Government would implement whatever opinion gained the 50%+1 level.

    His Party leader’s acceptance of this volte face, with the seeming support of this MP, is precisely that which has destroyed our most precious Democratic institution – The creation of legislation.

    A thing which may be regarded as the primary, if not quite sole, role of an MP.

    I do not fear a ‘detrimental impact’, I see it plain as day and know who the culprits are.

    There is yet an opportunity for these very culprits to right this wrong.
    NOT by ignoring ‘the responses to and the conduct of’ the 2016 referendum but, by doing now that which should have been done in June/July 2016:The whole matter should come before Parliament to be soberly assessed.

    While this may necessitate the removal of ‘opposition’ Party leaders, to be replaced by individuals who actually dare to act in accordance with and in support of our Democratic institutions.
    This is NO bad thing.

    – Physician heal thyself!

  2. It is quite clear that Jeremy Corbyn wants the hardest possible Brexit, and that Labour knows that its position , as set out below , is agreeably demanding of the govt and wld be impossible to achieve in practise with the enhanced control over migration and institutions which Lab also presumably wants.

    John Armitage

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

  4. Jolyon is entirely right, and the response here from Paul Bloomfield appears to be detached from reality.

    Firstly I attended #JezFest. Brexit is by far the most important political issue of the day. Corbyn’s speech was so short on Brexit, I had only just picked up he was talking about it before he moved on to something else. That says it all about his leadership. Or lack of it.

    Secondly some specifics:
    (1) Paul says “serious detrimental impacts for faith in our democratic institutions if we were simply to ignore the referendum ” Sure if it is “simply”. But my 25yo son is so angry with the way the referendum and its aftermath have been handled he has lost trust in politicians and lost all interest in politics. THAT is a serious detrimental impact which I suspect is widespread and that needs to be urgently repaired.

    (2) The Referendum was the “will” of the 2016 people. The 2018 people includes all the 16 and 17 year olds who have since turned 18. It’s their future and they need their say. The need for a People’s Vote is obvious, even if in the light of subsequent developments it still confirms the 2016 Leave result..

    (3) A marginal referendum result won by lies, cheating and apparently criminal activity should not be supported by credible politicians. With daily news of jobs being lost to the continent, we can’t actually wait for a People’s Vote. Polls suggest a majority now want to remain. Our MPs should now cancel the A50 notification.

    (4)If the Referendum result was invalid, which I believe it was, subsequent votes in Parliament are arguably invalid. That means, in principle, the A50 notification did not comply with A50(1) to be “in accordance with [the UK’s] own constitutional requirements” and was therefore invalid. I’d be interested in learned legal viewpoints on whether the strict legal position supports that conclusion.

  5. Labour is looking a gift horse in the mouth while not seeing the danger to itself.

    Brexit is a Tory mess, called by a failed Tory PM and with a worse than feeble attempt to implement the impossible.

    The vote was as much a rejection of Cameron and Osborne as it was anything to do with the EU. And it was funded and supported by hedge funds and the like anxious to avoid Brussels poking its nose in.

    By piling austerity on the poor, removing the Migrant Impact Fund and not implementing the Freedom of Movement rules properly (as Blair should have done), Cameron and Osborne, not to mention Clegg and Alexander, created this monster.

    It causes divisions within Labour but the vast majority of members and representatives do not support the current position.

    I completely agree that Corbyn can be charged with hypocracy by not including the views of this majority as promised but I still hope against hope that he will see the light.

    I suspect Starmer understands this and hope he is waiting to persuade but time is getting short.

    If Labour carries on this way backing a Tory Brexit it will be as turkeys voting for Christmas. Hard or soft, Labour will be rightly tarnished with the same brush as the Tories and be punished at the ballot box. A “Jobs first Brexit” is means no more than “Brexit means Brexit”.

    Do not expect Corbyn’s 2017 barnstorming performance to have the same effect at the next General Election – the Tories will be better prepared and Labour will be bombarded with Brexit questions to the exclusion of all else.

    The idea that Leave consituencies will continue to back Labour only if Labour backs Leave is naive and disrespectful to those voters who will be the main sufferers from a Tory Brexit – or any Brexit short of cloud cuckoo land Brexit. The number of employers backing off Britain is growing daily.

    In a General Election, Labour will lose Remain votes and constituencies to the LibDems and SNP, which will be the only way that the electorate will be able to influence Brexit or punish the party. The young will give up.

    Voters will forget the duplicity of the LibDems in coalition and Scottish voters will blame Westminster with justification. Corbyn will be destroyed, along with all the good he has done in reconnecting with people and with better policies.

    The only way out of this disaster is for Labour to back the Peoples’ Vote as a confirmatory referendum and allow a free vote in Paliament on all matters Brexit.

    This will detoxify it from Labour, leaving ownership of the whole disaster where it belongs.

    Leave constituencies can continue to back Labour for a health service etc. Remain cities will continue to back Labour where they are currently wobbling.

    If the people vote Leave again, at least they will know what to expect and everyone can get back together – or emigrate. At least such a referendum should not be tainted by lies and dodgy practices.

    But the Tories will be divided and annihilated in bitterness for a generation so the country eventually returned to the nice place it was once upon a time.

    I want my country back. And my party. The prize is there for the taking. The leadership must recognise the political and national imperatives.

  6. I am tired of reading lines like this:

    “Corbyn will be destroyed, along with all the good he has done in reconnecting with people and with better policies.”

    There was no youth quake and, despite hugging a Grenfell Tower victim, Jeremy Corbyn has said that Labour in Government under his leadership will not be able to afford to end two major Conservative austerity policies, the benefits freeze and the benefit cap, that hit the poorest hardest.

    Corbyn has also said he will make that other pet project of IDS, Universal Credit work. Whether both are either vain, arrogant men or just dim there is no way Universal Credit may now be made to work.

    The experts advised the last Labour Government that a Universal Credit was a project too fraught with risk to be worth pursuing. Sounds a bit like the Brexit beloved of IDS and the Lexit beloved of Corbyn.

    But who needs experts? Corbyn seems to be as dismissive of them as Gove.

    This week, Jeremy Corbyn’s principled Labour rejected parts of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism. A definition which is now widely accepted as the most useful definition and has been adopted by the government, the Crown Prosecution Service, many local councils and many other countries.

    But instead of adopting the definition as agreed by all these bodies, Labour has excised the parts which relate to Israel and how criticism of Israel can be anti-semitic.

    I keep hearing about how people like everything about Jeremy Corbyn, but not his stance on Brexit/Lexit. What some Corbyn supporters seem to fail to grasp is that their idol regularly fails to live up to his rhetoric.

    Labour’s recent General Election Manifesto would have kept £7 billion of the £9 billion of Tory Social Security cuts for which Jacob Rees-Mogg cheerfully voted and over which IDS resigned.

    Had Kinnock or Smith or Blair or Brown or Miliband gone into a General Election not committed to ending the benefits freeze and scrapping the benefits cap then Corbyn and many of his supporters would have been all over them like a rash.

    And rightly so …

    The only pledge Jeremy Corbyn definitely plans to honour is finding £10 billion plus to fund universal ‘free’ university tuition for mostly white, mostly middle and upper class youth.

    A pledge he will honour on Labour’s first day in office.

    The basic weekly rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance, for someone aged 25 and over, has been frozen at £73.10 since April 2015.

    It will stay frozen, indefinitely, under a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

    A kinder, a gentler politics?

    Not when people losing their jobs, courtesy of the Lexit for which Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for forty years, will be paid a benefit whose value has fallen since April 2015 and when mostly middle and upper class youth receive the equivalent of £70,000 per head, courtesy of universal ‘free’ university tuition.

    Capitalism for the poor.

    Socialism for the rich.

    Under the most Socialist Labour leader, ever …

  7. I didn’t say the “best policies” but some are better ones.

    The folly is of trying to pin the blame on the Tories with a Lexit that is all but the same in practice. As Donald Tusk said right at the beginning, there is either hard Brexit or no Brexit. Anything between means we are still bound to the EU with zero influence.

    Being nice to our European partners will not produce any significant difference. It won’t because they can’t even if they wanted to, which they probably don’t. I agree with Jolyon’s original piece and find it all very frustrating.

    Corbyn will be very badly damaged all the same, possibly fatally, but he has opened the path to a more inclusive approach. Whether you call it Socialist or not really doesn’t matter. This year’s party conference will be very interesting.

  8. Define better and inclusive, please?

    Labour’s membership was 70% ABC1 under Miliband.

    It is now 77% under Corbyn.

    The membership of the party is becoming concentrated in London and the South East.

    It is mostly white, middle aged, middle class and male.

    And “London’s values are Labour’s values”, according to Corbyn.

    Most of the hard edged policies in Labour’s Manifesto, if enacted would see the middle class welfare state increase by 10s of billions of pounds whilst child poverty, rising under the Conservatives, would rise even higher, not incidentally or accidentally, but as a result of deliberate policy choices by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

    John McDonnell promised that anyone with an income of £80,000 or less per year, 95% of the total measured by income, would not see any increase in Income Tax or National Insurance for five years, paving the way for stealth tax rebates.

    For example, Labour’s plan to enact Universal Free School Meals combined with the Income Tax and NI pledge amounts to a stealth tax rebate of £437.00 per eligible child per academic year.

    Those currently ineligible to receive free school meals and who have an income of less than £80,000 per annum would have an extra £437.00 per year to spend on their offspring.

    Those currently eligible to receive free school meals would have an extra £0.00 to spend on their offspring.

    The more parents have to spend on their children between 0 and 5 the better the life chances of their offspring.

    Labour’s UFSM policy amounts to a transfer of income and opportunity away from the poorest in our society to those capable of paying for the lunches of their own children.

    Labour plans to pay for UFSM by leving VAT on private school fees. In order for such a tax to raise a significant amount of revenue it must only deter a few people from sending their children to private school.

    The Diane Abbott of today is supporting a policy that would have made it harder for the Diane Abbott of yesterday to send her son to private school.

    Abbott famously criticised others for sending their children to private schools and then played the race and gender card to justify her hypocrisy when she was found out to be doing the same.

    Abbott sits in a Shadow Cabinet with Shami Chakrabarti, a passionate campaigner against grammar schools, who has sent her son, on failing to get him into Eton, to Dulwich College, the alma mater of none other than Nigel Farage.

    We have middle class members of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet supporting measures that would give the children of the better off free school meals whilst making it harder for the other ranks to access grammar and private education thereby making those institutions even more the preserve of the middle class than they already are.

    The newly minted Member of Parliament for Canterbury also campaigned vociferously against grammar schools before her election and before it was discovered she had been ‘forced’ to send both of her sons to a grammar school that holds its carol concerts in Canterbury Cathedral.

    A more inclusive Labour Party would de looking to weaken the grip of the middle class on access to higher education not strengthen it, would it not?

    A pound spent on Sure Start yields a greater socio-economic return than the same pound spent on universal ‘free’ university tuition, but Labour plans to spend £10 billion plus on the latter and at most only an extra £500 million on the former.

    Labour under Blair and Brown pledged to end child poverty by 2020.

    Labour under Corbyn in 2018 no longer has a child poverty reduction target.

    One reason why some middle class (and even some working class) Corbyn supporters hate Blair and Brown so much is that they feel they were not sufficiently rewarded for voting Labour in 1997.

    They have never forgiven Labour under Blair and Brown for going into a General Election on a platform of improving the condition of the working class, winning on that platform and then going on to deliver the policies on which they had campaigned.

    In 2017 Labour under Corbyn adopted the election strategy of the SNP and went into the General Election on a platform of improving the condition of the middle class and lost.

    The middle class in Great Britain is a smaller proportion of the electorate than the middle class in Scotland.

    May be next time Corbyn should hire some people that know what they are about rather than appointing relatives, friends or ideological travellers to key Labour Party positions?

    Most of the major players in Team Corbyn (which is not most of the Shadow Cabinet) happen to be white; male; middle or upper class; grammar, private or public school educated and quite often graduates of Oxbridge.

    How did Corbyn ever get his reputation for being a champion for equal opportunities?

    Team Corbyn lost after making an unashamed pitch for the middle class vote by pledging universal ‘free’ university tuition, free universal childcare, free universal school meals, a write off of (some) student debt, cheaper rail fares and so on.

    My family were tribal Labour voters until Corbyn’s election as Labour leader and we remain members of the aspirational working class.

    My father, for example, was a shop steward for decades, not an official like Corbyn, but like Corbyn he was for four years a Councillor and school governor.

    We no longer regard Labour as an inclusive party. We see it as one that wants our votes, that actually expects our votes, because Corbyn, an uncultured, unread, intellectually challenged, middle class white male thinks he knows what is best for us and people like us.

    The only thing that Dyer did wrong the other evening was to not address his second derogatory word for a female body part directly to Corbyn, who as much as anything else is leading Labour, because he appeals to the exclusive group that makes up the bulk of the party’s membership.

    Jeremy Corbyn is not leading the Labour Party, because he is a talented, hard working, insightful leader and skilled orator, who has done much for society in his long, well paid political career.

    Corbyn is leading the Labour Party, because he is a rather unremarkable, awfully mediocre male, who was born into an affluent, white middle class family in 1949 who appeals to people from a similar background.

    The wider electorate when asked who they would prefer to be Prime Minister routinely puts Don’t Know a good few percentage points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn.

    I look forward to a Labour Conference that will see that gap widen further as Don’t Know starts to breathe down the neck of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn becomes ever more miserable and baffled …

    Corbyn has enjoyed for most of his adult life the prerogative of the harlot down through the ages, power without responsibility.

    He has criticised, derided and sneered at the work of others (and that includes Labour’s sister parties in Europe and their commitment to the EU) and questioned the motivation behind their labours.

    The boot is now firmly on the other foot.

    And his fan club, so used to sharing his predilections seem unaware that the terms of trade have turned and not in his or their favour.

    Power with responsibility is a heavy burden.

    And a man who has dodged bearing that load, with some skill and dexterity for most of his adult life, is ill equipped, too intellectually disinclined (to be generous), inherently too undisciplined, lazy and mentally heavy on his feet to take up the challenge of being Prime Minster in his 72nd year.

    And Emily Thornberry, his likely successor is intimidated by “very cultured, well-read people – you know, intellectuals” and felt out of place at a secondary modern.

    Naturally, Thornberry sent her children to private school as did Ken Loach and Seumas Milne, the Old Wykehamist.

    God help the Labour Party, because on current form it is incapable of helping itself let alone deal with the challenges of Brexit/Lexit!

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