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Hole at heart of Labour’s Brexit policy

by Hugo Dixon | 11.05.2017

Labour’s leaked draft manifesto rejects crashing out of the EU with no deal. That would be bonkers. So hats off to Jeremy Corbyn for not following Theresa May in threatening to drive us all over the cliff like the demon-possessed Gadarene Swine in the Bible.

Labour also promises that parliament would have a “truly meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. That sounds right too. Though it doesn’t spell out what it means by “truly meaningful”, the assumption is that parliament would be able to reject a bad deal. May’s plan to use MPs to rubber stamp whatever she wants is an affront to parliamentary sovereignty.

But what if Corbyn, in the admittedly implausible role of prime minister, couldn’t clinch a deal? Or what if parliament gave his deal the thumbs down? Labour can’t answer these questions because it has also rejected the only sensible answer: ask the people in a new referendum whether they still want to quit the EU.

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Ruling out such a plebiscite means Labour’s Brexit policy doesn’t add up. If Corbyn couldn’t get a deal he could sell to parliament, he would have to ask the EU for a better arrangement or more time. But there’s no reason to suppose the other 27 countries would improve their offer or extend the two-year negotiating period. Apart from anything else, they want us out before the next European Parliament elections in mid-2019.

As Corbyn pleaded for extra time, the clock would just keep ticking. And despite Labour’s claim that we won’t quit without a deal, that’s precisely what could happen. It’s probably because of this confusion at the heart of his policy, that in a BBC interview this week Corbyn refused six times to say whether there were any circumstances in which he might abandon the Brexit process.

A referendum, though, could solve the problem. If the people didn’t like the deal Corbyn had negotiated, they could choose to stay in the EU. Ditto if he couldn’t come up with a deal at all. Indeed, the decision to quit the EU is such a momentous one that voters should have a chance to change their minds once they see what Brexit actually means.

Edited by Rachel Franklin