MIL-OSI UK: Another EU referendum. What’s the damage?

Source: Labour List UK

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A fresh EU referendum would cause “irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics”, Theresa May will tell MPs today. The public vote would likely not help make progress, further divide the country and “say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver”. This is the main message the Prime Minister is expected to send (and the one No10 wants everyone to take away, seeing as it was pre-released) when she faces the Commons this afternoon after failing to secure any “reassurances” from the EU last week.

Apart from the fact that May really, really doesn’t like the idea of another referendum, which I think is a genuine objection of hers as well as deriving from a stubborn commitment to her failure of a deal, what can we learn from this? First, the Prime Minister wants to distract MPs from her EU trip flop, and will probably therefore engage in the debate beyond “please refer to my previous answer on that question”. Second, the ‘people’s vote’ campaign is being taken seriously, and we basically have confirmation from the PM herself that cabinet ministers have been pushing the idea of allowing “indicative votes” on all options including a fresh public vote.

Lastly, concerns about the reliability of her word aside, this means May might refuse to lead the country into another vote. She wants getting Brexit done to be her legacy, and she is famed for her dogged determination (often mistakenly interpreted as acting in the national interest) – but her opposition to this path is such that if parliament forced her hand, a resignation could be on the cards.

The likelihood of another referendum increases daily. This is incredibly awkward for Labour, spelling trouble for its precarious electoral coalition of Leavers and Remainers. The party could go down the route of 1975, when it suspended cabinet collective responsibility and let everyone go their own way – but what would Jeremy Corbyn campaign for? Not May’s deal, nor ‘no deal’. His first preference is his own alternative Brexit plan, and that can’t be on the ballot paper because it doesn’t exist. It’s difficult to grasp the absurdity of the situation we’re looking at, in which both main party leaders head up campaigns that they have fought for months to avoid.

Ideas are cropping up all over the labour movement. As noted by LabourList last week, Corbynite union chief Manuel Cortes and soft-left group Open Labour are pushing for a 1975-style special conference on Brexit. Former Labour MP Nick Palmer today writes for LabourList proposing a little-considered course of action involving an emergency Labour government followed by a general election.

As we saw on the Sunday shows, views across the party are as varied as they could be. While Andrew Gwynne told Andrew Marr that a motion of no-confidence wouldn’t be tabled by Labour until after the deal is voted down, Chuka Umunna – who wants to move on to the “other options on the table” as soon as possible – was there to sell the ‘people’s vote’. Sky’s Ridge on Sunday saw frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey deliver the leadership’s line (a no-confidence vote should only take place when it can win; Brexit should happen), before Kate Hoey played down the dangers of ‘no deal’ and said the UK shouldn’t pay the £39bn divorce bill. As the famous Brexit composite motion promised, all options are on the table.

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: EU unimpressed by May while Corbyn waits for perfect time to strike

Source: Labour List UK

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Theresa May’s visit to Brussels has actually made her deal less likely to pass, if that is even possible. The Prime Minister last night sought “reassurances” from the 27 EU leaders with an impassioned plea for help on the backstop, but Jean-Claude Juncker has described the UK’s position as “nebulous” and “imprecise”. Extraordinarily, it seems May is still asking the EU for suggestions rather than laying down her own concrete proposals.

European complaints of May’s ambiguity and imprecision sound remarkably similar to the criticisms levelled by her own backbenchers, who incidentally are more deeply divided than ever. In what will be music to the ears of many Remainer Labour MPs, The Times reports that Philip Hammond wants the Commons to be given free rein with votes on all possible options, including another referendum, while hard Brexiteers are threatening to go “on strike” next week, à la DUP.

The irony of the whole situation is that the chances of both no deal and another referendum are increasing every day, despite neither main leader wanting either of those outcomes. It has now been confirmed that there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas. By running down the Brexit clock, May is trying to bounce MPs into voting for the deal. But this strategy won’t work because at the same time, the EU (and many MPs) are trying to bounce her into extending or revoking Article 50. The PM continues to deny that is an option, but we all know her word is meaningless and no-deal preparations have been insufficient. Rightly or wrongly, parliament doesn’t believe the threat of no deal and is ready to call her bluff.

The Labour leadership continues to assess when would be the optimal time to table a vote of no confidence in the government. MPs who paused their VONC demands during the Tory leadership vote have now resumed pressure, and it looks like Keir Starmer’s team is pushing for it to be held before Christmas. But Jeremy Corbyn wants to strike when there’s a real chance of securing a win.

Some hope that when May updates MPs on Monday with nothing good to report from her EU excursions, the DUP and/or hardline Tories will have finally had enough and indicate a willingness to either abstain or even vote against the government. In the meantime, the run-up to recess will see Labour make life impossible for the government by taking advantage of Speaker Bercow’s disposition to granting urgent questions and debates. How much longer can May hold office without power?

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: Calls grow for an emergency Labour conference on Brexit

Source: Labour List UK

Soft-left activist group Open Labour has today joined calls for the Labour Party to hold an emergency conference on Brexit, adding to the voice of TSSA chief Manuel Cortes who made the demand last month.

The grassroots organisation hopes such a move would clarify and update Labour’s Brexit policy ahead of an ever more likely snap general election. It expects that conference would opt to support continued membership of the EU while advocating reform.

Leeds North West MP and Open Labour committee member Alex Sobel said: “Our internal democracy is the most vital part of our party decision-making process. When facts change, it’s important to go back to our sovereign policy-making body, Labour Party conference, to make the decisions.

“With 29th March 2019 rapidly approaching, it’s important that our members have the final say in what our position should be before a general election. We all understand that our leadership is managing a very difficult balancing act well.

“I hope that they will see our members as vital in getting our party to stand united at this time of crisis and get the best resolution for our party, the communities we represent and everyone in this country, whether they voted leave or remain.’

The idea of a special conference, which has quickly gained traction amongst pro-EU activists in the party over the last few weeks, is inspired by the events of 1975. Under Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, the party held a one-day conference to resolve its deep divisions over Brexit and debate Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

Led by cabinet ministers Tony Benn and Michael Foot, the anti-Common Market faction won the vote by almost 2-1, as only seven of the 46 trade unions at the conference supported EC membership. Although Wilson was pro-EC, the conference result meant Labour as a whole remained neutral and collective responsibility was suspended.

Writing for LabourList last week, Corbynite trade union general secretary Cortes argued that Labour should push for a fresh referendum and “campaign for Jeremy’s Remain and reform vision”. He said, in a piece for Huffington Post in November, that this would require the party to convene a special conference as soon as May’s deal was defeated.

Commenting on Open Labour’s announcement, co-chair Emma Burnell said: “The government is in chaos and is headed towards a hard, devastating Brexit. Now is the time for the Labour leadership, MPs, trade unions and Labour Party members to step up and show the leadership this country needs and offer the country a way out of the appalling mess the Tories have left us in.”

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