MIL-OSI UK: May snubs compromise as Labour moves to ‘third phase’ of Brexit policy

Source: Labour List UK

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Just days after the government suffered a historic defeat on its Brexit deal – the largest defeat of any government in modern history, let us not hesitate to repeat – Theresa May is expected to return to parliament with the same plan. In a conference call last night, the Prime Minister reportedly told her cabinet that she doesn’t intent to change course. Instead, she will aim to win enough Tory and DUP support to get her deal through by seeking assurances on the backstop. Sound familiar? Possibly because that’s exactly what she vowed to do over Christmas.

How will she do it? The EU hasn’t, as hoped, changed its mind on the backstop after watching MPs reject the deal – after all, Ireland is still a member, and the backstop was actually May’s demand in the first place, and it only survives as an idea due to her red lines. There are rumours that she’d like to amend the Good Friday Agreement, which is clearly not viable. Another scheme involves a bilateral treaty with Ireland, which the Irish government has already quashed.

Was Jeremy Corbyn right to turn down May’s invite to Brexit talks last week? According to our latest survey, which attracted 5,625 responses, 60% of LabourList readers think he made the right call. It’s clear that the cross-party discussions were indeed a “stunt” and the PM had no intention of changing course until having at least one more go at convincing her party and confidence-and-supply partner. She knows that opting for customs union membership would split the Conservative Party, and why risk being that Tory leader? But, in her statement to the Commons today, May will no doubt place the blame on Corbyn for the failure of cross-party talks. Labour can only hope the public realise she is prioritising party unity above the national interest.

Over the weekend, Labour’s Brexit position developed when Keir Starmer gave a speech at the Fabians conference (read the full text here – note that LL gets a mention – and our key takeaways here). The headlines are that Labour is at the ‘third phase’ of its policy set out at conference, i.e. the alternative Brexit plan or backing a public vote. Again, the leadership won’t be moving swiftly onto the latter now that May has rejected compromise, but will instead wait to see how long her stubborn approach holds.

What’s clear is that Labour considers Article 50 extension “inevitable”, to quote Starmer, and this is important in deciding whether to support Yvette Cooper’s latest amendment. Although the opposition wants to make clear that responsibility for delaying Brexit lies with the government, Labour also wants to block ‘no deal’. Cooper’s move would give MPs a vote on whether to extend Article 50 if no agreement has been reached by the end of February, i.e. stop May running the clock down any further.

In what could become crucial in any future cross-party agreement, Starmer conceded on Marr the next day that “at this stage, any deal probably does require a backstop”. But if May does succeed in getting her ‘Plan B’ through with Tory and DUP votes, it is the Shadow Brexit Secretary’s other admissions that matter. “It’s a commitment to you, our members and our movement. And it is one we will keep,” he said of the key pledge about all options remaining on the table. The idea of another referendum, which has “significant support” among Labour members and some MPs, “has to be an option for Labour”, he added.

While answering audience questions, Starmer described himself as “a fan” of the Brexit citizens’ assembly idea, saying: “We’ve got to bring people back into these discussions, whether it’s through citizens’ assemblies or other means”. These are all largely shifts in tone rather than substance, but many MPs like to point out that Starmer has succeeded in softening the Labour position at every crunch moment. Could his backing for a further “injection of democracy” in the Brexit process break the camel’s back, or ultimately – like the backstop and extending Article 50 – become inevitable?

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: Pro-remain parties – ‘pressing need for the backstop to be banked’

Source: The Green Party in Northern Ireland

Monday 10 December 2018
Statement from the pro-remain parties:

“The four Remain parties, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party continue to believe that there is no such thing as a good Brexit and our preference is for no Brexit at all. We recognise that the majority of people, businesses and civic society do not want Brexit either.
“We have a shared responsibility to protect jobs, economic stability, the environment and people’s livelihoods.
“At the very least, this means avoiding a hard border, protecting the Good Friday Agreement and hard won peace of the past twenty years, and staying within the Single Market and a Customs Union.
“Therefore as a basis for this, we maintain that there is a pressing need for the backstop as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement to be banked.
“By contrast, we believe that a no deal situation would be catastrophic for our economy and society.”
ENDS
Signed by:
Michelle O’NeillColum EastwoodNaomi LongClare Bailey
Tags: Backstop, Brexit, Withdrawal agreement
by Clare Bailey, Colm Eastwood, Michelle O’Neill, Naomi Long

MIL-OSI UK News

MIL-OSI UK: Corbyn’s alternative Brexit, the jilted TV debate and opposing Tommy Robinson

Source: Labour List UK

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Jeremy Corbyn has laid his cards on the table with a Guardian op-ed, which covers why Labour is opposed to Theresa May’s deal and what its alternative plan would look like. The Labour leader argues that the deal on offer “gives up control” rather than taking it back, and says the party will work with others to ensure it is rejected as well as ‘no-deal’. We know it will be roundly defeated on Tuesday – it’s a certainty unless May pulls the plug on the meaningful vote, which has been rumoured (though apparently she would need MPs’ consent). The question is therefore what Labour is proposing to do next. Are there any clues in the piece?

Corbyn acknowledges that ‘Norway-plus’ is “being canvassed among MPs”, but bats it away, just as ‘people’s vote’ supporter Mike Gapes did on LabourList this week. The best outcome would be a general election, he says, then there’s that well-worn phrase – “all options must be on the table”. He specifies: “Those should include Labour’s alternative and, as our conference decided in September, the option of campaigning for a public vote to break the deadlock.” Paul Mason excitedly tweeted: “Boom! Corbyn commits to second referendum if May blocks general election…” But that interpretation is more than a little generous to his own cause, as the Labour leader has simply reiterated party policy. (And, noticeably, he is still doing so in writing. The frsh public vote idea gets a much frostier airing in interviews.)

Most interesting is that, again, Corbyn places the ‘backstop’ at the centre of his case against May’s deal. The current arrangement does not allow for an independent exit, which would require EU approval, and could “endure indefinitely” as confirmed by the published legal advice. But the EU says there is no deal without a backstop. Wouldn’t Labour’s alternative plan – and let’s remember that a renegotiation is the leadership’s first preference – call for a backstop too? In yesterday’s Brexit debate, focussing on the economy, I was struck by John McDonnell’s responses on this issue. His answers were revealing and suggest this will become a crucial point of contention.

If you were hoping to abandon Doctor Who/I’m A Celebrity/Strictly and instead watch the two main party leaders battle it out live on telly this weekend, I’m going to have to disappoint you. That pre-Brexit vote TV debate everyone was arguing about will not be happening, as May didn’t agree to a head-to-head. “Her team tried to confuse people with a convoluted format,” Labour said last night. Don’t worry: there’s hours of repetitive Commons debates on Brexit from the last few weeks you can watch back.

But before that thrilling boxset binge, you might want to add another event to your Sunday schedule. Dozens of organisations including Momentum and Another Europe is Possible have called a counter-demonstration to Tommy Robinson’s ‘Brexit betrayal’ protest. As discussed last week on LabourList, there has been conflict over the left’s approach, a conversation grounded in whether Brexit appeals to the far-right because it is an inherently racist project (Lexiteers: ‘no!’). London Young Labour’s Artin Giles today writes for LabourList arguing that the left should not allow internal divisions over Brexit to get in the way of “the need to build an anti-fascist majority across the country”. LYL’s message: “Leave or Remain: we all hate Tommy”.

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: The key bone of contention exposed by McDonnell in the Brexit debate today

Source: Labour List UK

The economy is the subject of the Brexit debate on Day Three. Accordingly, Philip Hammond opened, and his words were entirely predictable. Hemmed in by Treasury forecasts that show any form of Brexit will make the UK worse off than it would be remaining in the EU, Hammond had no choice but to focus on the case for securing a deal in the first place. This is lucky, in a way, as the only thing going for Theresa May’s deal is that it is a deal.

“I do not believe that we can afford the economic cost of a no deal exit. But I equally do not believe that we can afford the political and society cost of trying to undo the decision of the British people in the referendum,” Hammond told MPs. It is key to the matter of Brexit that this argument could just as well have been delivered by Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader would also posit that ‘no deal’ is too harmful to jobs but that no Brexit may destroy the little faith in democracy still held by voters in places such as Mansfield and North East Derbyshire, which happen to be key marginal seats for Labour.

John McDonnell kicked off his response by acknowledging the importance of Tuesday’s meaningful vote and quoting Corbynsceptic Labour MP Hilary Benn. “My final plea to the House is as follows: now is the moment to tell each other the truth. No one is going to get everything they thought they would get…. All of us are going to have to compromise.” It struck a conciliatory tone with cross-factional, cross-party appeal – a particularly clever move at a time when MPs and ordinary voters are talking about the benefits of a national unity government. (Not that a Tory leader would countenance the idea, which from their perspective would risk offering credibility and authority to Corbyn.)

The Shadow Chancellor said he would focus on four key points:

  1. Seeking to avoid ‘no deal’, “either by imposition or by default”, which he described as an area of “widespread majoritarian common ground across the House”.
  2. Accepting that the Prime Minister’s deal is “neither politically nor economically acceptable”, and cannot win a majority in the Commons.
  3. Establishing that Labour’s plan could unite the country “by addressing the concerns raised in the referendum campaign while securing the benefits of
  4. Recognising “the expression of a worrying concern, given our economy, of Brexit’s impact on our communities”.

The cross-party appeal soon fell away in favour of a divide and conquer strategy when the Shadow Chancellor aimed fire at the Irish ‘backstop’. This is the reason that the DUP – which is holding the government together – will not vote for the deal currently on offer, and therefore has been highlighted repeatedly by Labour spokespersons at the despatch box. Quite understandably. But many are bemused by the identity of the fierce backstop opponents, especially McDonnell, who only in October said he still “longs for a united Ireland”.

But more pertinent than an apparent U-turn on British unionism is whether Labour’s critique of May’s deal stands up. Corbyn, McDonnell and other frontbenchers have been to point out problems with the backstop – primarily that the UK cannot unilaterally withdraw from it, and it could apply indefinitely, as confirmed by the published legal advice. The assumption is that Labour’s alternative Brexit plan would not require a backstop.

In the debate today, when the DUP’s Ian Paisley asked “if his party would drop the backstop and the Northern Ireland protocol altogether”, McDonnell replied: “We would not need the backstop because we want a permanent customs union and a relationship with the single market.” Certain terms were used. But Tory backbencher Alex Chalk then raised the matter again: “Wouldn’t there still need to be a backstop in any event, as the UK would be outside the single market?” This time, McDonnell replied: “I believe under a comprehensive customs union agreement, it is so much more unlikely there would be any need for that fallback position.” The second answer was less definite. And it is this matter that would become of crucial importance if Labour got its preferred option of a renegotiated Brexit deal.

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