Is Labour warming to a people’s vote?

by Hugo Dixon | 05.06.2018

Keir Starmer says Labour is keeping its options open about whether there should be a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. But it is the latest sign that Labour is warming to the idea.

It is worth quoting what the shadow Brexit secretary told the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee. Starmer says “Labour is keeping its options open on the issue of a people’s vote. It all depends on the question: is it a soft or hard Brexit versus remain or leave? Or a three-way choice?”

Quite what Starmer wants isn’t clear. Would he like a choice between soft Brexit and remain, or hard Brexit and remain? Or would he really like a three-way choice between soft Brexit, hard Brexit and remain?

But that’s not the main point. Rather, the question is what Labour will do when the government presents its deal to Parliament, probably late in the autumn.

Starmer has said for a long time that the party “will not support” any deal that fails its six tests. One of these is that the agreement must “deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union”. There’s no way this government will cut such a deal.

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However, Labour hasn’t exactly said it would oppose a deal that fails its tests. The words “will not support” leave open the possibility that it could abstain. But Starmer surely realises that standing by idly as the government rams through a miserable deal would mean that Labour would have blood on its hands.

So assuming Labour votes against the deal and gets enough Tories to back it, what would it do next? Well, its top preference would be a general election. But that’s extremely unlikely, as I explain here.

Labour might also want to send May back to the negotiating table. But, given that the two-year timetable for talks would have virtually run out, the EU won’t be keen on that.

On the other hand, doing nothing would mean we crash out without a deal – which would be crazy as even the government’s own leaked analysis shows. There’s no way Labour could vote for that.

So by a process of elimination, the party may end up backing a people’s vote. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, already hinted at this in April. So Starmer’s comments don’t seem to be rogue.

It would be nice if Labour actually backed a people’s vote with enthusiasm – pointing out that this is the most democratic way of resolving the mess the government has got us into. But even half-hearted support, if that’s where it ends up, would be better than nothing.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Is Labour warming to a people’s vote?”

  • Starmer position now very much same as that Ian hearing from SNP Group of MPs. Both parties need to show leadership by proposing and campaigning for PV with choice between whatever deal emerges and deal we have within EU now.

  • I am confused. Starmer is absolutely no fool. Yet when he discusses the famous 6 tests, including ‘the agreement must “deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union” he must know that this will not be possible. Hence the tests are already failing. Is this his way of declaring that they will not support any deal that the gov. reaches?

  • First Past the Post voting is like the political version of a Siberian winter where sailpower is top speed. There’s no real political choice or no means of achieving anything unless 1 rotten, retro leadership decides to do something based on crude calculations of winning a general election outright against the old enemy, years hence, for one round of time maybe every thirty years. Meanwhile, in the long run, we are all dead.