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Expert View

Labour’s Brexit policy is weak, but don’t lose hope

by Denis MacShane | 27.03.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

The turmoil in the Labour Party over accusations that Jeremy Corbyn has been blind to anti-semitism in its ranks has divided Labour MPs with many open in their criticism of the leadership. The party is equally divided, perhaps more so, over how to respond to Brexit.

The majority of MPs and Labour party members reject Brexit and want a fresh look at it. The Labour Party’s policy as defined by its resolution on Brexit adopted at its 2016 conference is that any final deal requires approval at a general election or a referendum.

So far Labour has not been able to put this policy into its speeches. In Berlin speaking at a political institute linked to the former East German communist party, now rebranded as Die Linke, Labour’s trade spokesperson, Barry Gardiner, was even reported as saying Labour would vote to endorse Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

This surrender to the Tory approach to Brexit worries many in Labour. Corbyn’s decision to sack Owen Smith as shadow Northern Ireland secretary for daring to suggest that the people might be consulted before the final amputation from Europe takes place further shows the gulf between the party leadership and many MPs, members and voters.

Diane Abbott’s office sent out letters suggesting the same last year – although the shadow home secretary subsequently dismissed the missive as a “poorly worded standard letter”.

Although the idea of a referendum is Labour conference policy, party bosses have prevented any debate on Brexit at national or regional conferences since 2016. Labour has set up eight working parties on future policy but not one of them is on Brexit – the most important issue facing the country.

True, the party has made some crab-like moves towards a softer Brexit policy. In particular, it has embraced the idea of staying in a customs union – and this week Labour has proposed cross-party amendments to legislation going through Parliament to keep the Irish border open and ensure MPs rather than the prime minister decide what the options are at the end of the Brexit talks.

But Labour was far too welcoming about the prime minister’s dismal transition deal last week. What’s more, its leaders have been silent about allegations that the official Leave campaign cheated by breaking spending limits in the referendum.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Labour’s Brexit policy is weak, but don’t lose hope”

  • It has been reported in the Guardian that in a recent speech, Corbyn re-affirmed his philosophical commitment to leaving the EU, which you might sum up as Bennite
    ( his mentor) protectionist socialism.
    Lets face it, Corbyn is usually best known for the consistency of his views over the decades, so this ought not be too much of a surprise. But of all the times when this chaotic and sclerotic government needs an opposition on the biggest issue of our time, it has instead got Corbyn, a hard left Bennite believer of the EU as a capitalist conspiracy.
    I am sick of hearing people making excuses for all of his massive errors of leadership.

  • Whilst many of us have rightly criticised the Government’s attempt to railroad the Brexit Bill through with the mimumum of public and parliamentary discussion and debate, Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to offer meaningful opposition have been pitiful. There is a clear majority in the Commons opposed to a destructive Hard Brexit, but he seems incapable of marshalling his side of the House to prevent this.
    The fact that the EU Commission and Paliament are not socialist enough to his liking is not the point, just as the same bodies not being sufficiently in favour of free market deregulation for many Conservatives, should be irrelevant.
    People in Europe don’t view the EU in ideological terms. They see it as a pragmatic and symbolic coming together of European nation states to work for the common good. They see Britain wanting to distance itself from its neighbours, despite its history and geographical position making Europe the obvious grouping of states to work together with. They see Britain’s departure as damaging not just for the European economy, but just as much for the lasting harm caused to cultural relations.
    Corbyn, really has to wake up to the fact that he will be seen as on the wrong side of history, unless he provides more effective opposition to the Brexit Bill. Labour, is part of an international movement, and he will have many kindred spirits across Europe. He should realise that such groupings will have many criticisms of the EU, but scarcely any of these would advocate pulling out. Europe is not about any specific ideology. It is about community formed by neighbours working together for the common good.

  • Labour’s performance on Brexit amounts to a dereliction of its duty.

    The Party is against it, but there is no sign of that in the behaviour of the leadership.

    One might say that the leadership must moderate the Party’s stance to make it pallatable to the electorate, so Labour could win the next election. But by aping the Tories, who is going to buy a fake reproduction when you can buy the real Tory Brexit?

    I used to think Corbyn was less a leader and more a listener. Now I can see he is patently neither. As for Labour winning the next election, that ship is almost out of the harbour and there is little time to catch it. Without major changes to thier Brexit policy many would vote Tory before they’d vote Labour again. Labour’s treachery on Brexit his is hard to stomach. The treatment so far of Europeans legally present in this country is a national disgrace for which we should not be forgiven. Yet Labour has acquiesced and ignore the pracitical and psycological torments imposed upon these people. My support for Corbyn as a leader, “well that ship has sailed,”
    to quote the man himself.

    Furthermore, Mr MacShane, where exactly is the cause for hope in the article that you refer to in your title? We’re on course to get a blah, blah, blah Brexit and years of turmoil. What a future to choose for your country.