Indyref2 adds another twist to Brexit that Labour cannot handle

by Trevor Fisher

Harold Wilson rightly said that a week is a long time in politics. Philip Hammond would agree, but the real shift in emphasis post budget was the SNP decision to go for a second independence referendum if they don’t like the Brexit deal. Or rather before the Brexit deal, as they want a vote before we know what the deal actually is. This adds another twist to the Brexit saga that the Labour leadership cannot handle.

As I noted in my post after the Open Labour meeting on March 11th, Miliband dampened hopes by backing the Corbyn- Starmer line. This is an acceptance of Britexit – without the escape clauses of referring a deal to the electorate agreed by Party conference last year – and an attempt to get a few concessions which they can sell publically as a Soft and so acceptable Brexit. The Tories will not allow this to happen.

May’s strategy is to win over the UKIP vote which if successful in leave constituencies – like Copeland –  would make the Tories invincible. Labour loses two ways backing soft Brexit. Labour can lose to the Lib Dems or SNP in Remain seats, and to Tories in Leave seats. UKIP don’t seem a serious challenge unless they can resist the Tory surge, and this remains possible. But what is clear is that Labour’s strategy cannot work, and the last week provided depressing evidence that this was the case.

The debate and vote on the Article 50 bill (European Union, Notification of Withdrawal) Bill came up for a derisory two hour debate on March 13th. Poor in content and almost contemptuously handed by David Davis, its only notable feature was the defeat of the two Lords amendments which would have provided some safeguards. Given the Tory majority, these could only be passed if Tory MPs rebelled. The significantly titled shadow minister for Brexit, Keir Starmer MP, pointed out these were Labour proposals accepted by the Lords.

That killed off any chance of a Tory rebellion, and one can only wonder why he did not play the national card. However Labour under Corbyn has no strategy so this was not suprising. The Tories have a majority in the Commons, and with Labour Leave MPs such as Graham Stringer and Gisella Stuart voting with the Tories, the Labour amendments failed and the Bill sailed through unamended. There is no sign yet that the Labour Front bench understand that as the Tories impose a Hard Brexit as May has planned this is the first of many defeats.

It was not suprising that on the specific issue dominating the Brexit headlines this week, Labour has had nothing to say. While Corbyn’s first response to the Sturgeon demand for a second Scots Independence vote was reasonable – Labour is not in the business of opposing Referendums if there is a legitimate case – if the actual May-SNP wrangle met with a Labour response, it has not reached my desk. The SNP call for a vote in a time frame Autumn 2018 to spring 2019 is playing politics with the Brexit issue, since the two year negotiations will not have been completed. But May’s postponement to 2021 or longer, if the SNP win the 2021 Holyrood elections, is spurious. The argument is that Brexit has to happen before the SNP can object to it. No, we can object to the Deal May is negotiating when it is ready in 2019.

Labour could split the Tories and SNP by arguing for a compromise calling for the Deal to be put to the people of the whole UK when it is ready, initially by parliamentary scrutiny. As it has not done so, it must assume that it can get a soft Brexit with a meaningless scrutiny by parliament. Since the Tories have already said their version of a ‘meaningful’ parliamentary debate on the deal is to accept it, or go out of Europe without a deal, I have to conclude that Corbyn and co are relying on the deal being one they can vote for. As May is preparing Hard Brexit, the mind boggles.

Sturgeon’s call has had one valuable outcome, in establishing that referenda are not binding, but any constitutional lawyer would know that. Which is why May did not try to deny that the Scots had the right to have one. Only the timing is at issue. Corbyn is perhaps influenced by his long anti-Europeanism, but his position is so far backed by other leading figures, yet as the leader of a Remain Party who campaigned for Remain, he should be arguing for the chance to put the final deal to the people in two years time. At the same time he can also campaign for the UK to stay united. This might even win some Tory votes in Scotland from people who want to keep the union, and Remain votes from the Nationalists from people who want to stay in the EU. So far there is no sign the Labour leadership understands that the chance to split their opponents is possible.

As things stand, Labour will lose to the Tory-UKIP bandwagon in Leave constituencies, as the Leave camp will see them as Johnny Come Lately converts. And in Remain constituencies, Labour can lose to the Lib Dems who are clearly calling for a second referendum. Keir Starmer is struggling to convince anyone he can get any concessions which would make the claim of a Soft Brexit plausible. The attack on people’s rights which is coming the leadership has to oppose. But unless they can get amendments through, then they will appear weak and ineffective.

The logical policy to pursue is to follow Labour party policy, and as the amendments fall demand that the settlements go to a popular vote including Article 50. If the Remain position is victorious, Britain not only stays in the EU but all the current Tory moves fall. Otherwise the next two years post Article 50 are one long string of demoralising defeats in the Commons. There is however an alternative in line with existing Conference policy.

Labour is an internationalist party, while the SNP and Brexit Tories are nationalists. They clash over the EU, but from the viewpoint of seeing their own country first. Labour could show itself internationalist in preserving the UK as a multi-national state, while preserving the European Union, with reforms, as a multi-national co-operative association. Its relatively simple formula – UK OK, EU OK. And the position is principled. But if Labour cannot take the lead in doing this, they will lose to other parties who are staking out their own ground. This last week has made this very clear.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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20 Responses to “Indyref2 adds another twist to Brexit that Labour cannot handle”

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting article and it does clearly articulate the problems Labour has. The Conservatives are invincible at this time. Also as Tony Blair said back in his heyday the United Kingdom is a small c conservative nation. We are patriotic, proud to be British, accept markets and want freedom. Corbyn is the antipathy (along with Abbott and Lady Nugee) of this and hence the mid 20% polling.

  2. Tafia says:

    The SNP will get their seccond referendum – but I guarntee you it won’t be until after BREXIT . I doubt very much it will even be in this Parliament – more like after GE2020, some time in 2021 or 2022. That shouldn’t bother the SNP because surely, this is about scottish independence not EU membership. The two are entirely different things and totally unrelated.

    Start accepting reality – we are leaving the EU. The vast bulk of the Leave vote fully understood it meant leaving it lock, stock and barrel and fully expect that the next few years will be difficult. So a Hard Brexit they are most definately not in the slightest arsed about. Stop trying to delay things, tie it up in knots, weaken it and generally piss about with it. Instead, try accepting it and helping to make it work instead of trying to undermine the people, the government and Parliament (doing so actually makes you a traitor to the country, not to mention a laughing stock)

    The Tories impose Hard Brexit Errm, the final deal will be imposed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – not the tories.

    As for the continual piss-poor bleating that any deal should go to the electorate – don’t be so absurd. Do you actually want to cripple British business? You seriously expect them to sit there and do nothing for two years hile they wait to see what the outcomne of another referendum is? Not withstanding that unless the EU are bald faced liars, once A50 is triggered we are out after 24 months whether a deal is struck or not, unless either us or the EU asks for an extebnsion AND every meber state agrees to it, OR we ask to withdraw A50 AND every member state agrees to that (don’t believe me? Read the clauses and sub-clauses to A50 and remeber, it can’t be altered without the Lisbon Treaties being amended, which triggers referenda in several countries, so I think we can safeky say the EU won’t be agreeing to that).

    Yet as Leader if a Remain Party…. A pathetic argument for two reasons. Firstly all parties represented in Parliament were Remain and secondly there is no Leave or Remain anymore – that is yesterday’s politik.

    The reason Keir Starmer struggles to convince anyine is because he isn’t actualy a very good politician. Certainly, few people will take seriously a man his age who wears hair gel.

    The logical policy is…..amendments fall Agsin failing to accept we are leaving and living in a fantasy.

    Labour is an internationalist party Not if it wants to be in the EU it isn’t. Might a just remind you that the EUis protectionist and regionalist and not to mention racist with an apartheid immigration policy that classes internal migrants as superior to external ones. Any desire to be a member of it automatically makes you regionalist, protectionist and racist.

    And as for adopting a position of remaining in the EU and reforming it, always remeber we are in the second division in the EU because we are not in the euro and as such the EU doesn’t pay any attention to us anyway and not only that you would have to convince the electorate that the EU can be reformed – and after Cameron’s negotiation fiasco it is blatantly obvious it has no intention of reforming and is focused solely on one thing – federalisation.

    Now and easy question for you. What exactly is a soft BREXIT and what exactly ius a hard BREXIT. Because if there is a slightkly harder than soft BREXIT, or a slightly softer than hard BREXIT then there is no such thing – all there is is BREXIT.

    Labour’s best bet now is to embrace BREXIT fully and vow to make whatever the final negotiated outcome is, work. If they can’t or won’t then they will become irrelevant.

    Barman!!! – I’ll have a double of what this fool from the past has been drinking.

  3. Tafia says:

    Firstly all parties represented in Parliament were Remain and secondly there is no Leave or Remain anymore – that is yesterday’s politik.

    Should read “Firstly all parties represented in Parliament less Carswell were Remain and secondly there is no Leave or Remain anymore – that is yesterday’s politik.”

    (Trying to type on a phone is hard work)

  4. Anon says:

    What Tafia said.

    Labour have allegedly lost five million voters, add to that the fact that 35% of Labour members voted to leave the EU; the people who now don’t vote for Labour (possibly because of Labour’s love affair with the EU) and the 35% who are members and voted to leave, make up quite a sizeable portion of the electorate.

    And why should the lost members be convinced by this sudden conversion to national interest – to the wo/man on the street Labour seem to be for anything BUT this country and its people.

    Waving the flag, in pursuit of staying in an organisation that openly sneers at the nation state, comes over as ridiculous.

    At present, Labour seem opposed to the will of the people – Labour either carries out the will of the people, or they must stick to their party beliefs and stay out of power.

    Surely that is what democracy is about.

  5. I agree Tafia that there is no soft or hard brexit, which is the point I was making about Labour’s stupidity in arguing there is. But the continued mantra that after 24 months we are leaving is simply Brexit propaganda. There is no automatic process even taking into account the fact that Article 50 can be repealed if parliament choses to do so, though it will not. The Tories could not accept it.

    However politics are now reviving and as the SNP have now shown, no referendum is ever final. The SNP lost last time, but plan to win next time. So too will the Remain camp.

    I do like your desire to pretend that we have no choices to make Tafia, in accordance with the Brexit attempt to hold the line now so widespread. In 1938 would you have believed that we had ‘Peace in OUr Time’ when the majority of MPs voted for the Munich agreement? There is only one lesson that history teaches us. Nothing ever stands still.

    Trevor Fisher

  6. Rob Parker says:

    You’re ignoring the key detail (as usual with articles on this site). JC pledged that “Labour will not block Brexit” – this means that if Labour fails to get assurances of a non-hard Brexit, he has to back Brexit regardless.

    If he is to live up to this, he can’t renege on this by voting down government bills (after the amendment phase) which seek to deliver Brexit, or by calling for a referendum on the deal (which could theoretically mean that Brexit would not happen).

    Forget about electoral strategy – JC has simply taken a principled viewpoint that Leave won the referendum, therefore Brexit has to happen. Labour will push for the best possible terms but will not ultimately block Brexit on the final terms, whatever they may be. I think he’s quite right to take this approach.

  7. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “Labour is an internationalist party, while the SNP and Brexit Tories are nationalists”. So tell me why is it Trevor that Scottish Labour is voting with the Tories at Holyrood today? to prevent a second referendum?
    Dress it up anyway you like but perception is everything and what this looks like is that Labour in Scotland are siding with the Theresa May, The Tories and Brexit against the wishes of Scotland, which I should remind you voted (by region) 100% to Remain.

  8. uglyfatbloke says:

    Seems likely Sturgeon will get her vote today and Scottish Labour will have put its collective foot in its mouth. Like it or not, there has been a ‘material change’ and the nats do have a mandate. I’m opposed to referendums full stop – I think that’s what we elect people for – but in these circumstances resisting a referendum is really just gesture politics…and if he standard of debate offered by almost all Labour MSPs yesterday is anything to go by the gesture is pretty vulgar.
    Do none of them realise that there’s elections in May? Do they really want to get the Labour vote down to single figures?

  9. Tafia says:

    There is no automatic process even taking into account the fact that Article 50 can be repealed if parliament choses to do so, though it will not. The Tories could not accept it.

    That is factually wrong. Parliament can ASK that it is withdrawn, but to withdraw it requires the permission of every member of the Council of Ministers – no abstentions, no votes against. It was deliberately designed that way so that member states realise that triggering it is a nuclear option.

    There is only one lesson that history teaches us. Nothing ever stands still.
    Exactly. Which destroys Remain and the principle of membership and even the existance of the EU at a stroke. Evolution says that from the moment of inception, the EU started moving towards it’s own collapse. We are leaving. Probably with no deal and probably in far less than 2 years. If at some future date we wish to re-apply then fine. But somehow I don’t think we ever will.

  10. Tafia says:

    Dress it up anyway you like but perception is everything and what this looks like is that Labour in Scotland are siding with the Theresa May, The Tories and Brexit against the wishes of Scotland, which I should remind you voted (by region) 100% to Remain.

    Another whining sweaty. Scotland is not in the EU and never has been. The UK is in the EU and the UK had a vote and the UK voted to Leave. Scotland is merely a region of a member state – the EU says so. Scotland can change that and apply for membership once it becomes an independent country in it’s own right. But to do that it must wait it’s turn until the UK has dealt with more pressing matters.

  11. ian says:

    Guys, two referendums in a row and your party has not been the principal champion of one side or the other. And you wonder why you are in trouble?

    If you want Scottish independence, vote SNP. If you want to defend the union, vote Tory.

    If you want to stand against Brexit, vote LibDem. If not, vote Tory.

    Why would anyone vote Labour?

  12. Anne says:

    I agree ‘nothing ever stands still’ and situations change. Kier Starmer does present his arguments well and he may be able to influence the negotiations in some areas but will it be enough. We are learning daily of the complexities of these negotiations and it is becoming questionable if Mrs May’s team are up to the job – to achieve the right kind of Brexit. If Nicola Sturgeon is demanding a second referendum I don’t think it is unreasonable for the people to be consulted about the proposed exit plans.

  13. Tafia says:

    Kier Starmer does present his arguments well and he may be able to influence the negotiation

    Kier Starmer couldn’t influence whose round it is next. He is typical of modern Labour in that people. (Usually the remains of the Blairite support) somehow think he is a competent heavyweight when in fact Labour has no heavyeights at all. Just a few rusting middleweights and a stable of has-beens and never wiil-be’s

  14. Peter Kenny says:

    So people opposing Brexit are ‘traitors to the country’ – we’re not even democrats any more, apparently.

    If you believe Brexit is a disaster in the making it is your right to make that case, to try to rally support etc. To try to overturn it, have another vote etc. That is how democracy goes isn’t it, not this ‘enemies of people’ crap.

    If you’d lost that’s what many leave supporters would have done.

    Honestly, the fact that you say such a thing and I’m the first to challenge it speaks many, many volumes.

  15. Tafia says:

    we’re not even democrats any more, apparently.

    If you were democrats you would accept the result wholeheartedly. The fact you don’t means that you aren’t.

  16. I assume that Ian’s question is not rhetorical. The questions of Scotland and the EU are two sides of the same coin. If the Scots referendum re-emergence means one thing, it is that two nationalisms are now on offer, the UKIP variety where the Lib Dems may oppose the Tories south of the border and the SNP north of the border, and the SNP variety, where the SNP poses as the defender of the EU against the Tories.

    However the position of rejecting both is only really available to the Labour Party. the Lib Dems occupy the same anti break up position, Pro EU and pro UK, but are too small to make a difference. Labour could if it breaks with its mad attempt to line up a soft brexit which the Tories could accept – Tom Watson’s latest blog is a plea to Theresa May to be reasonable, very sad indeed, while Miliband at the Open Labour Conference on March 11th was pleading that Labour could make a difference…. not available without a split in the Tory MPs – and the tragedy is that the Labour leadership cannot make the case.

    There is a principled case to be made on a nationalist versus internationalist basis. Alas on present form, only the LIb Dems will make it and the Labour Party will split over the fears of its MPS that their constituents will reject them, both Remain and Leave constituencies being vulnerable.

    The Party policy as agreed at last conference sets out a viable way forward. But once the Front Bench announced that Brexit will happen, they backed themselves into a corner. There is no soft Brexit on offer. Its Remain or Leave.

    And the same is true of Scots Independence. A sharp leadership would lead the fight on both fronts against the divisions now emerging. Labour does not have one.

    Trevor Fisher

  17. Peter Kenny says:

    Tafia – I accept it. What I don’t accept is your language/thinking about the referendum or democracy come to that.

    Do parties who lose elections forfeit the right to argue their case? Is the minority sometimes right?

    If we took your argument then all if those who refused to accept the 1975 referendum result are traitors and anti democrats. They’re not.

    Democracy, as well as being about elections and referendums is also about continuous debate and contention. Freedom of speech and assembly – it’s not too hard to grasp, is it?

    What you have said is against those values. People who try to stop Brexit are not ‘traitors’, they are just putting their case, mobilising, demonstrating etc. It’s their right to do so, not treachery.

    What I think is actually going on here is that when/if Brexit is a disaster someone has to be to blame – how neat if it happened to be the people who never wanted it happen in the first place!

  18. Tafia says:

    Peter, if you want to play the democrat game then follow the rules – wait till we,re out and campaign to apply to re-join.

    Thing is, no matter how hard you try to bluff people have seen straight through you and your like – what you are doing is trying tonslow things, trying tobconfuse things, trying to water it down and if possible stop it completely.

    Until you stop that then any pretence at you and your sort at ‘accepting’ or ‘democrat’ is flaughablel at best and at worst an out and out blatant lie.

  19. Peter Kenny says:

    Taffia – I’m not campaigning against Brexit. I personally accept it.

    I’m saying you’re talking authoritarian crap by using words like ‘traitor’ against those who are. Phrases like ‘you and your like’, reveal this don’t they? You really have no idea who ‘my like’ are.

    You are engaging in divisive anti democratic rhetoric by essentially saying that people have no right to try to stop Brexit.

    They have right to try to slow it down, water it down, stop it completely. Not traitors – citizens.

    They have every right, I think they’ll fail, I think it’s a mistake to try but, unlike you, I actually like living in a democracy where they can have a go.

    ‘confuse things’ – listen to yourself for a minute! whatever is free debate and discussion about? What kind of politics want to avoid ‘confusion’.

    It’ll be confused Taffia, because it’s life.

  20. Tafia says:

    Peter Kenny. – What utter bilge. You are just hiding behind a smokescreen and pretending you are something that you quite clearly are not and fooling no-one in the process.

    Just accept the result without trying to hinder it. Be a good citizen and facilitate it. Once we are out you are free to campaign to re-join. You won’t though because you know we won’t be going back.

    And if they go against the result of a free and fair election and then attempt to deliberately undermine the government while it is trying to enact that result then yes they are traitors.

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