Labour must back public vote on any deal, not just Tory one

by Luke Lythgoe | 29.04.2019

Despite pressure mounting for the Labour leadership to back a public vote on any kind of Brexit deal, the party’s executive committee is expected to lean towards a fudge when it finalises its European election manifesto tomorrow. That would be a tactical error. An open letter signed by 5,000 potential supporters is the latest evidence that pro-Europeans would rally behind Jeremy Corbyn if he ended the ambiguity around his party’s Brexit policy.

The letter, written by InFacts, is signed by pro-Europeans who would “strongly consider voting for Labour” in the upcoming European elections if Labour were to take a “clear stance in favour of a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit outcome”. It points to recent polling that suggests this is what the overwhelming majority of Labour voters want, while suggesting pro-Europeans of other political stripes would also support the party on May 23.

The letter was sent to Jeremy Corbyn’s office today, ahead of a potentially heated meeting of Labour MPs this evening and the final decision on the manifesto tomorrow.

Voices from within the Labour party have grown louder in recent days. Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, the backbench MPs responsible for tabling amendments for a confirmatory referendum in Parliament before Easter, have written their own letter. In it, they warn: “If a ‘deal’ is implemented without first going to the people for confirmation, then in the months and years ahead, the public will have a right to say ‘this isn’t the Brexit I voted for’.”

And that’s the essential point behind calls for a new referendum. It’s almost three years since the 2016 vote, so much has changed. Countless promises made by the Leave campaign have now been broken. New facts have emerged: the threat to peace on the Irish border; a “blindfold” Brexit with many years of uncertainty being offered by the prime minister; a populist “America First” president in the White House. Surely, before the UK agrees to any deal, the people should have a final say on the terms?

Others Labour figures are speaking out too:

  • Deputy leader Tom Watson, who spoke at the huge ‘Put It To The People’ march in London last month, has urged Labour members to contact members of the National Executive Committee if they want to see a “confirmatory ballot” in the party’s manifesto.
  • Jon Lansman, founder of the Corbyn-backing Momentum group, said Labour’s conference policy meant the party should be able to agree on a “confirmatory vote on any govt deal in our manifesto”.
  • 22 candidates in the European election yesterday signed a pledge promising to campaign for a public vote on any Brexit deal – and Eloise Todd, until recently Best For Britain’s boss, added her name today.
  • The general secretaries of three influential unions – Unison, the GMB and Usdaw – have thrown their weight behind a public vote.

Corbyn and his team clearly want a say on the terms of Brexit – and are happy to propose a public vote if it stops a Tory Brexit or no-deal crash out. Talks are ongoing with the government, covering key Labour concerns such as workers’ rights and environmental protections. But these talks too seem to be reaching a stalemate. For a party with such strong democratic traditions, why can’t Corbyn get fully behind the democratic solution of putting the thing back to the people come what may?

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Labour must back public vote on any deal, not just Tory one”

  • The Labour leadership will need to acknowledge that the present EU Withdrawal Agreement is the only type of Brexit available. It’s certainly a ‘damaging’ Brexit because it leaves the UK’s economy facing an uncertain future outside the single market, which means future trade will not be frictionless. The EU will not re-open the agreement because it’s not in its interest to do so: it has secured indefinite tariff-free access to the UK market for its goods exports.

    While it’s reasonable for Labour to suppose that the EU would, in the future, be open to the UK joining the customs union and single market, it is vital to understand that the EU will dictate the terms of this because the UK will have even less bargaining power than it has now. Crucially, the EU won’t allow the UK a vote in trade matters and will insist on full CJEU jurisdiction for all single market/customs union matters. The EU will also insist on continued free movement and will not allow partial single market participation.

    In addition, the EU will be in a position to dictate the price of the UK’s post-Brexit participation in the customs union and single market, which could be higher than what the UK now pays because the EU budget rebate will be gone.

    This means that: (i) it will not be a straightforward task to re-construct the UK’s economic relationship with the EU post-Brexit and, (ii) a long period (probably 2+ years) of uncertainty is guaranteed. Because there’s no way this cannot be economically damaging Labour must oppose it by supporting a People’s Vote on whatever version of the withdrawal agreement manages to pass Parliament.