MIL-OSI UK: What has – and hasn’t – changed on Brexit this week

Source: Labour List UK

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It’s been a long and dramatic week in Westminster, but what has actually changed? Jeremy Corbyn made a big speech on Brexit, which told us what we already knew about Labour’s position, i.e. push for general election, get a better deal. For some reason, pundits were surprised that there was nothing new in the speech, though announcing a policy shift now – before the Tuesday vote – would have made little sense. The purpose of the Labour leader’s address was basically, as I understand, to achieve the goals set out in yesterday’s email: communicating his top priority of forcing an election and establishing a narrative that works for Labour.

Theresa May’s deal is still going to heavily defeated – by more than 200 votes according to most estimates. Only one Tory backbencher, George Freeman, has changed his vote and taken the ‘my deal or no deal’ bait; so far, the majority of MPs aren’t convinced by her ultimatum. As Angela Eagle writes for LabourList today, this failure is down to the Prime Minister’s consistent approach ruled by her “partisan and authoritarian instincts”, which have further divided the country and parliament and done nothing to heal our wounds.

We now hear that May has been on the phone to trade union leaders in a desperate bid to shore up support for her deal. This move has surprised many, but the most puzzling choice is not that she approached Unite’s Len McCluskey and GMB’s Tim Roache yesterday, but that she took so long to do so. And she only did so after it was requested by Labour backbenchers – the ‘inbetweeners’ group including Lisa Nandy and Caroline Flint, who campaigned for Remain but represent Leave seats. They themselves, despite having spent months openly considering voting for a Tory deal, were only invited to Downing Street this week. It’s important to note that Gareth Snell, who was at that meeting, still intends to vote against the deal. Too little, too late, Theresa May.

This morning, appearing on Radio 4’s Today, Jeremy Hunt argued that the week’s events proved Speaker Bercow would “frustrate the government at any opportunity” and MPs would “find a way” to block no-deal. Rejecting May’s deal could mean “paralysis”, the Foreign Secretary said. The government is making last-ditch efforts to appeal to Labour MPs, but also to its own Brexiteers here. Can that multipronged approach work, or does it just make everyone unhappy and distrustful? The crucial question is whether May, after suffering a heavy defeat on Tuesday, will U-turn on customs union membership and put all her eggs in Labour’s basket.

Have a great weekend, and remember to take our new (and very quick) survey on the last ten years of Labour leaders, events and campaigns.

Sienna @siennamarla

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MIL-OSI UK: Could a workers’ rights amendment win Labour backing for May’s deal?

Source: Labour List UK

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Today is the tenth birthday of LabourList, which launched on 10th January 2009. First edited by Derek Draper, whose dramatic entry and exit from the project remains unrivalled (so far), the site was then under the helm of Alex Smith, Mark Ferguson and Peter Edwards, all of whom contributed brilliant reporting and helped grow this mailing list, which now has over 37,000 subscribers. I’ve only been in post less than a year, but hope I have provided some clarity and useful analysis in these interesting times. To mark the occasion, I’ve rounded up the most-read comment pieces of the last ten years and made an anniversary survey, where you can quickly offer your views on the last decade of Labour leaders, events and campaigns.

Also in celebration of our birthday I’m sure, Jeremy Corbyn will make a speech on Brexit in Wakefield, Yorkshire, this morning. The Labour leader is expected to argue that a general election is the best way to break the Brexit deadlock, insisting that a government with a fresh mandate would be able to “negotiate a better deal for Britain and secure support for it in parliament and in the country”. Corbyn will pair this demand with his take on what really divides the UK: whether you’re living in Tottenham or Mansfield (marginal seat klaxon), he will say, “you’re up against it”. The split is not between Leavers and Remains, according to Corbyn, but “between the many, who do the work, create the wealth and pay taxes, and the few, who set the rules, reap the rewards and so often dodge taxes”.

This speech normalises the idea of a general election and effectively communicates it as Labour’s top priority to the public. It also establishes a narrative that our two irreconcilable electoral camps – pro-EU metropolitan seats and Leave-voting marginals that need to be won back – have more in common than often assumed during this all-consuming Brexit crisis. More generally, it shifts the focus from Brexit, i.e. tricky ground for the party, to Corbyn’s comfort zone, which is talking about the need to oppose “the entrenched power of a privileged elite”. In sum, it works on many levels – but Labour still needs to work out a way to actually force that election.

The government was defeated for a second time in 24 hours yesterday: the (latest) Grieve amendment forces the Prime Minister, after losing her meaningful vote on Tuesday, to return with a ‘Plan B’ within three sitting days. (This involved dramatic scenes in the Commons – if you missed the afternoon’s events, read my explainer.) This is crunch time. Most likely to happen over the next week: the deal is voted down; Theresa May secures some assurances from the EU on the backstop; she returns with a slightly modified plan. Unless the backstop is scrapped, the DUP won’t be having it. But the government could win support from opposition MPs.

Such efforts have already begun: although Gareth Snell wrote a piece for LabourList in November pledging to vote against May’s deal, he has now proposed an amendment with Caroline Flint, Lisa Nandy and John Mann that would guarantee workers’ rights and environmental protections. It is expected that the government will back this helpful move. And the talk is now of May ultimately conceding on customs union membership. Could that see the Labour leadership abstain or support a revised Tory deal? Remember that the only way to get the DUP to vote with Labour in a vote of no confidence is for May’s deal to pass. If a general election is Corbyn’s first preference, letting a Plan B gain Commons approval could be the next step.

Sienna @siennamarla

Update, 11amLabourList has been told by Snell’s office that the MP still intends to vote against May’s deal, and the amendment relates to “the conversation about future domestic legislation” – not getting her deal passed.

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