The past few months in politics have been characterised by: ‘What if Theresa May cannot get her deal through’, ‘when will she resign’, ‘how will she convince Parliament to back Chequers?’ These fail to acknowledge the absolute farcical state of the Labour Party at the moment. It has a leader posing as a Brexiteer in Hartlepool and Hyndburn, yet as a Remainer in Kensington and Camden. How beautifully convenient and... confusing?
Since the referendum, Labour have created their criteria in voting for any deal the Prime Minister returns from Brussels with. This has taken over two years: 1/10th of my lifetime. In that time Labour has done remarkably little in creating a credible alternate Brexit vision. The party is peppered with internal divisions and their Brexit plan directly contradicts its 2017 election mantra: ‘for the many, not the few’.
Firstly, the six tests for Brexit were outlined as a set of criteria under which Labour would be prepared to vote for the deal the government returned from Brussels with. Does the deal:
Ensure a strong, collective future relation with the EU?
Deliver the exact same benefits as we had in both single market and customs union?
Deal with the issue of immigration effectively?
Sufficiently protect workers’ rights?
Keep the UK secure and ensure cross-border cooperation to prevent crime?
Deliver for all component parts of the UK?
These are entirely subjective. Theresa May would have a different conception of ‘workers rights’ than Jeremy Corbyn does, a different conception of ‘benefits’ and of ‘deliver’. Furthermore, at the end of all this, will Labour ever really vote for any deal Theresa May secures? Keir Starmer admitted Brexit ‘can be stopped’, Emily Thornberry has flirted with the prospect a second referendum, and John McDonnell has openly called for a vote of no-confidence in the government. It seems Labour’s sole aim is to blindly vote against any deal in order to look virtuous and achieve a measly increase in seats in a general election, and who can blame them? Their membership backs remaining in the EU by 90% (YouGov, Sep 2018).
The first test simply states that the UK must leave the EU but also must remain politically and economically aligned to it. Straightaway, you can see people cocking their heads to one side.
Secondly, the idea of delivering the exact same benefits to the UK as we had when we were members of both customs union and single market also lacks basic feasibility: to experience the same benefits we would have to be inside both of these bodies.
Labour ‘clarified’ their boggy position on this matter by advocating continued membership of “a” customs union and tepid support for the single market. This point is vague and smacks of deliberate dilly-dallying.
In terms of points 3, 4 and 6, these will only become apparent after Britain leaves the EU.
Essentially, Labour has primarily focused on our future relationship with the EU, not the crucial withdrawal agreement, and has failed to create a visionary, exciting and contemporary post-Brexit arrangement (and let me just say, I am no fan of Chequers either).
Fundamentally Labour’s plan is about as inspiring and imaginative as my left toenail. Secretary Barry Gardiner labelled it as “bollocks” (The Guardian, 10 Apr 2018) and over 1/8th of the party support a complete abandonment of the six tests and instead a ‘Peoples’ Vote’. Labour’s plan is unclear and comes from Keir Starmer, a man with a profession built on legalism and licit loopholes.
Ultimately, Labour need to decide who to listen to, their members, or the public, of which 40% don’t support a second referendum (YouGov; 12 Dec 2018). Jeremy Corbyn also needs to take this personally: the same YouGov poll found that 68% of the public lack faith in his vision of Brexit and Labour’s 6 tests.
2019 undoubtedly holds some surprises in store for both parties, but Labour indulging in the façade of having a plan for Brexit may well prove to hinder its future success. I believe these tests will crumble if Labour ever become the negotiators in this long, long process.