Labour Conference 2018: Time for a new direction on Brexit

by Jonathan Todd

Labour Party conference meets amid the UK’s deepening constitutional and economic crisis. Merely by reiterating its long-established red lines, EU leaders inspired a haughty and incoherent speech from our out-of-her-depth prime minister, bringing the calamity of no deal Brexit nearer.

The message from Nigel Farage at the Leave Means Leave rally is clear: “No deal, no problem.” The message from Labour’s conference needs to be equally straight-forward: “No deal, no way.”

Brexit, as President Macron noted, “was pushed by people who predicted easy solutions.” Now the same people tell us not to worry about no deal. Surely the will of the people is not to be fooled twice.

The warning lights from Labour should be flashing brightly to avoid the kind of no deal scenario depicted in a Financial Times editorial in July:

“The UK would spill out of the EU on March 29 2019, guaranteeing chaos on all fronts. It would spell international isolation, as well as a shock to the economy and a political backlash. No competent government could contemplate such an option.”

Given this, the prime minister is wrong, pace her Friday speech, to assert that no deal is better than a bad deal. Labour must say so.

The prime minister is mistaken, too, to claim that EU leaders provided no explanation for their rejection of Chequers. It followed from their consistent position on the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms. We must hope that Labour, as an internationalist party, demystifies this hardy mysterious reality.

The prime minister’s plea for respect from the EU might chime with the strange fusion of superiority and inferiority that is Brexit’s heartbeat but jars with the delay of over a year, after the triggering of Article 50, for Chequers, the failure to respond to repeated requests for the legal text of the Irish backstop, and the bizarre insistence that the EU solve a problem created by the UK.

Respect for the EU, to say nothing of the intelligence of British people and our economic interests, demands more. Which Labour should provide.

In contrast, shadow minister Barry Gardiner tells us: “Never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake.” The UK, we should hardly need say, is not Labour’s enemy. Yet it is the people of the UK – much more than the Conservative Party, with its gilded privileges – that are suffering.

While the immense cost of no deal Brexit is still to come, and can, hopefully, be averted, the cost of foreign holidays and imports rose as the prime minister spoke on Friday, with Sterling in vertiginous descent.

The demand that the gravity of the UK’s situation be acted upon should not be belittled as an elite preoccupation but understood as central to defending the interests of those that Labour most exists to serve.

When a slump in Sterling drives an increase in prices, it is those on the tightest incomes that are most squeezed. When frictionless trade with the EU is lost, it is not those who can offshore their interests that will be hurt. When this vandalism increases the cost of UK debt, inviting still more austerity, it is those that most depend on public services who will be hit hardest.

If legal text of the Irish backstop cannot be agreed, the transition terms fall, and the UK is heading for no deal, with a hard border on Ireland. If these terms cannot be accompanied by detail on our future relations with the EU, we are moving towards the unacceptable unpredictability of ‘blind Brexit’. After the foreseeable rejection of Chequers, the UK is barely any closer to this detail than we were when Theresa May came to office.

All these are strong reasons to seek to extend Article 50. For sake of running out of time, it cannot be right to allow us to slip into disastrous no deal, a future that no one promised or voted for in May 2016.

Neither at that time, nor since, has Labour gone far enough to engage the British people on the fundamental Brexit trade-offs:

  • Maintain frictionless trade, without a UK say on the regulatory terms, via the Norway option.
  • Diverge on regulation, lose frictionless trade, imperil our economy – choke on chlorine-washed chicken in futile search for compensating trade.
  • Reject Brexit to enjoy both frictionless trade and shared regulatory influence – and no diminution of worker, consumer and environmental rights.

It is time for some straight talking, honest politics on Brexit at #Lab18. There is, contrary to some Labour campaigning, no jobs first Brexit. There is, despite some Labour claims, no Brexit dividend. There is nothing to be gained by continuing to follow the false prospectus of Farage et al.

It is time to think again. Not about how we select our parliamentary candidates or council leaders. While various voting systems have strengths and weaknesses, during this national crisis, Labour does not serve those that depend upon us with internal debates.

In a previous national crisis, Ernest Bevin came to Labour conference to speak for the nation. With his call for a people’s vote, Tom Watson has arrived at this conference not only demanding that Labour act upon the views of the overwhelming majority of members, but as a Bevin for our times, advocating the least bad way forward for our beloved country.

 Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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16 Responses to “Labour Conference 2018: Time for a new direction on Brexit”

  1. Alf says:

    The Blairites have a very marginal presence at this year’s conference. I think that’s a good thing. The voters clearly want a proper Labour party, not one which is led by a bunch of displaced HR directors.

  2. Landless Peasant says:

    Tom Watson can’t be trusted so far as he can be thrown.

  3. Anne says:

    Well said Jonathan ~ I agree with every single word
    I will also add – The lack of respect and understanding by the Brexiteers regarding the Irish boarder is astonishing
    I too hope that the conference is productive.

  4. Joe Roberts says:

    Let’s face it, Labour has no coherent policy on how we leave the EU; if you respect the referendum result then we leave. The Irish boarder is a red herring, it’s the EU that will need to erect a border post not the UK; their alternative with the Irish Sea border is akin to giving Alsace Lorraine back to Germany!

  5. John P Reid says:

    It was Kate’s hoey who said no deal no problem, and Barry Gardners comment, it’s not the UK who’s making a problem

    Alf yes the Blairites are marginal at conference,but then the conference is completely out of touch with the electorate,as such the opoinion polls

    Wes streeting saving face,that a vote ona deal, no deal is the people’s vote, maybe Corbyn would pretend toaypport a deal,and want no deal,as. Such ,Corbyn again would secretlyeantno deal,and tell people vote for a deal,

    There’s no problem on the anti border, we are powerless to EU workers go to the south, cross the boarder work,cash in hand, it happens else where, in armgkand there’s people allowed to come to the uK, but not work,who work cash in hand, same as there’s price difference in council boroughs on parking charges, if someone goes from one county council to the next to park in a cheaper council car park, or in Glasgow people go to Newcastle by booze that has a cheaper tax on it

    Of course people won’t go from the south, to anorthern irekwnd and cross to the British mainland with out photo ID

  6. Tafia says:

    Anne – The Irish Border.

    You do of course know what the law of the land is regarding it. After all, you claim to be following Brexit events so of course you paid attention to the Withdrawal Act, which is now the law of the Realm.

    The UK will not place a hard border between RoI and NI on the UK side – it physically cannot. It has passed a law preventing itself from doing that. Only the EU can put a hard border in place and only on the Irish side. And that is the nub of the EU’s bitching – that they are being put in a position whereby they will be the ‘bad guys’.

    In addition, Varadkarhas been quite hard about thie issue – he has stated repeatedly he will not allow a hard Border on his side either. So again that puts the EU in the ‘bad guy’ position because a) they will overrule what Varadkar says abouthis border in his country and )b yet again it puts the EU as the villain.

    The law of this Realm, passed by Parliament and signed by the Queen is as follows whether the EU like it or not.

    (2) Nothing in section 7, 8, 9 or 17 of this Act authorises regulations which—

    (a) diminish any form of North-South cooperation across the full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of co-operation, including the continued operation of the North-South implementation bodies, or
    (b) create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature:-
    (i) physical infrastructure, including border posts,
    (ii) a requirement for customs or regulatory compliance checks,
    (iii) a requirement for security checks,
    (iv) random checks on goods vehicles,

    (v) any other checks and controls,that did not exist before exit day and are not subject to an agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union”

  7. Vern says:

    More tosh! For 30+ years you have all criticised he EU. It was once deemed radical and free thinking to dream about severing our times with the big monopoly on the other side of the channel.
    Now that this is becoming a reality you yellow bellied toss pots are becoming turncoats. Keep running away from your responsibilities. Tthankfully, enough of us are still ballsy enough to cover your privileged and protected backsides but we won’t forget your behaviour during these times.
    And Anne, I must admit the subject of a border

  8. Vern says:

    More tosh! For 30+ years you have all criticised he EU. It was once deemed radical and free thinking to dream about severing our times with the big monopoly on the other side of the channel.
    Now that this is becoming a reality you yellow bellied toss pots are becoming turncoats. Keep running away from your responsibilities. Tthankfully, enough of us are still ballsy enough to cover your privileged and protected backsides but we won’t forget your behaviour during these times.
    And Anne, I must admit the subject of the Irish border was not on my radar during Brexit talks and I don’t think it was on yours either until a few weeks ago.
    The country will remember that at every opportunity Corbyn and Labour deliberately hindered and obfuscated our Brexit plans. Shame on you!

  9. Tafia says:

    ddKeir Starmer version 1 – “There’s no dispute that Britain will leave the European Union in March 2019. Labour voted to trigger Article 50 and we did so knowing that we would leave the EU within two years”

    Keir Starmer version 2 – Starmer has refused to confirm that the UK would leave the EU on March 29th next year under Labour, telling TalkRadio’s Ross Kempsell that Labour could extend Article 50 depending on the circumstances.

    How is this bollocks going to go down with Labour’s Brexit voters? Was he lyong then or is he lying now.

  10. Anne says:

    Politics aside for a little time. Anyone who doubts our comradeship with Europe should watch the Ryder cup – great partnership play from the European team. I am supporting our Ryder cup team playing in Paris.

  11. Vern says:

    So Anne, when you say putting politics aside and then in the next breath lead with “anyone who doubts our comradeship with Europe…..

    No one doubts our relationship with sportsmen and women from Europe or the ROW for that matter. No one doubts or relationship with Joe Public in Europe or companies / firms from the EU either.

    What we want though is to be in charge of our own destiny again. We will still be part of the continent, not governed by it.

  12. Anne says:

    Goodness me. What rude, personal assumptions some people make.
    Bye the way the Tory conference is in Birmingham this week – perhaps some would be more comfortable in this setting.

  13. Vern says:

    You will have to enlighten me Anne with your last statement. Looks like an Owen Jones response to me.

  14. Anne says:

    What rudeness coming from the Ministers at the Conservative Party conference -rubbishing Labour – no ideas of their own and making a complete mess of Brexit – all this achieves is making more people turn away from them. Seem to be plenty of empty seats there.

  15. Tafia says:

    Anne, Europe is not and never will be the EU, and the EU isnot and never will be Europe.

    The two concepts are, were and ever will be mutually exclusive

  16. Toby Ebert says:

    We can’t have a “people’s vote” on Brexit for the simple reason that we’ve already had one. We are a democratic party and have to accept the results of the referendum. All we can hope for is Labour amendments to the Tory deal or a general election and a Labour Brexit rather than a Tory one.

    In the circumstances, I think Labour’s current position is correct.

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