5 reasons to be more optimistic about Labour and Brexit

by Rachel Franklin | 27.09.2017

The national press’ main takeout from Labour’s conference in Brighton was that Jeremy Corbyn wants to stop discussion about Brexit. With the help of the grassroots group Momentum, the leadership avoided a potentially embarrassing debate about single market membership by voting it off the agenda in a move widely seen as a stitch-up.

However, at the conference fringes, there are signs that Labour could yet be the party to lead Britain back from the Brexit precipice. Here are five reasons to be optimistic.

1. Full fringe

The party’s grassroots are finding their voice, gaining in confidence and gearing up for an anti-Brexit fightback. Hundreds of activists were turned away from the Labour Movement for Europe’s fringe. Other Brexit-sceptic events were packed to the rafters. This is a reminder that roughly two-thirds of Labour voters backed Remain and, if mobilised effectively, are a powerful force to be reckoned with.

2. New pressure points

Labour’s pro-Europeans are organising themselves better, both in parliament and at the grassroots. On the eve of conference, more than 30 MPs from Open Britain and the Labour Campaign for the Single Market signed an open letter calling on the party to back single market membership as a long-term solution. Labour Against Brexit, another new kid on the block, has attracted significant grassroots support.

3. People to get final say?

Labour backbencher Geraint Davies has tabled a private members’ bill to give the people a final say on Brexit. At conference, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Kezia Dugdale, until recently leader of the Scottish Labour Party, signalled that the party should commit itself to such a referendum. A recent YouGov poll found that 51% of Labour voters support a referendum on the terms of Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn has refused to rule this policy out, though he says he is not planning a new referendum.

4. No-nonsense negotiator

Keir Starmer, the chief architect of Labour’s Brexit policy, is focussing on ensuring Brexit delivers the “exact same benefits” Britain currently enjoys as a member of the single market and customs union. Labour will harry the Tories both with their EU Withdrawal Bill and any final deal they reach with the EU. Given the government’s divisions and slim grip on power, Theresa May is staring at a year of parliamentary trouble.

5. Government in waiting?

Corbyn’s boast that Labour is a government in waiting isn’t pie in the sky. According to bookmakers the odds on a general election in 2018 are as low as 3-1 and current polls show that the Labour party would just about pip the Tories to the post. With Tony Blair refusing to rule out forming a new pro-European party, Corbyn will need to shore up his pro-European support to avoid a new centrist force emerging and eating into his vote share. A stronger stand against Brexit wouldn’t just be a vote-winner; it would also put the party on the right side of history.

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    This article was updated shortly after publication to include the recent YouGov poll showing Labour supporters’ attitudes towards a referendum on the final terms of Brexit.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    2 Responses to “5 reasons to be more optimistic about Labour and Brexit”

    • All positive signs from Labour, but I think it will need more help from pro-Europe Tories to block damaging Brexit bills. There were some encouraging speeches by the likes of Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke, Anna Soubry etc. at the most recent Commons debate on the Brexit Bill, but sadly that’s all it was. Words.

    • It’s grat to hear that Labour’s ‘fringe’ is so large but it will need to get a lot tougher, quickly. They are up against this: http://www.dorseteye.com/north/articles/here-is-labour-s-position-on-europe
      Fear of the mob is not a valid reason for policy. All MPs who understand the dangers of what is going on must uphold our constitutional democracy and act within Parliament to stop Brexit. Labour must grow a spine and represent the two-thirds of their voters who backed Remain. Why has the message not yet got through to Jeremy Corbyn that he can still have his reforms within the EU (as explained a while ago on this website)? With multiple legal challenges to Brexit now in the pipeline, now is the time to adopt the correct and moral stance of challenging the legality of the whole sorry exercise. Come on, be on the right side of history, Labour!