Brexit: Labour’s Deepening Dilemmas

The EU withdrawal agreement revealed by the government this week can only make Labour’s Brexit difficulties worse, says WILL BROWN. The party urgently needs to find some greater clarity.

With Wednesday’s shaky approval from a splintered cabinet of the draft agreement over the terms of UK withdrawal from the European Union, the tortuous and sorry story of Brexit reached another inglorious milestone.

It is an agreement that satisfies almost no-one, denounced by both leavers and remainers as worse than the UK’s current position, and delivers few of the so-called benefits of leaving. It is truly an embodiment of the lies and contradictions of the leave campaign coming face to face with the rigidities of the EU and the fraught politics of the island of Ireland.

Labour Brexit pic2

And yet the logistics of parliamentary procedure, combined with political weariness, may well mean this process of national self-harm continues. As Martin Kettle noted in The Guardian, ‘a deal in practice has more force than a deal in theory’.

International negotiations are replete with immovable red lines that end up bending, fading or smudging as the prospect of agreement comes within touching distance. The opposing parties’ real bottom lines – what they will put their signatures to – are only revealed in the final acts. To begin to unpick agreements such as this, particularly when the other side’s negotiating position is as complex as the EU’s, is a big political gamble. The impending Article 50 deadline of 29 March 2019 merely increases the pressure on all sides to proceed come what may.

Although Theresa May looks likely to lose the support of the DUP and some Tory Brexiteers, the agreement may still win parliamentary approval for the pressure on remain MPs of both major parties will be immense. Indeed, you can almost write the soundbites of rapidly reversing remainers already: ‘It’s time to end the uncertainty’; ‘We need to act in the national interest’; ‘We must bring the country together’; ‘Let’s accept with regret this imperfect deal as the best we can get’.

Labour’s options in these circumstances are not easy for it finds itself in a difficult position that’s partly of its own making. In January 2017 I wrote about the dangers of Labour not opposing Article 50 more effectively, even if it was committed to respecting the referendum result.

“It may be very difficult to reject the deal at the end point when it comes back to parliament,” I wrote. “After all, that will be the end of a very long and complex process and to try to insist the government goes back to the EU to unpick substantial parts of what has been agreed, at the very point when member states will also be deciding whether to accept or reject the deal, will be extremely tricky.”

In the two years since then, the choices have become clearer, while the logic of, and support for outright opposition to Brexit has grown. Yet the party’s current position remains to call for a general election, take over the negotiations and find an agreement with the EU that satisfies its six tests.

If this is not quite in the realm of fantasy, it is at the very least a highly improbable outcome. It would require, first, the House of Commons to vote for a general election – currently an extremely remote prospect – then the EU (including the Commission, 27 member states and the EU Parliament) to extend the Article 50 deadline, re-open the whole package of issues that have been thrashed out over the past two years and agree to terms that satisfy Labour’s tests – which, let us not forget, include giving the UK greater control over migration.

People’s vote

Short of a general election, the options facing Labour are to seek to amend the withdrawal agreement through parliament in favour of something like a Norway-style trade arrangement with protection for environmental regulations and workers’ rights; or to seek a ‘people’s vote’.

Being able to amend the deal in parliament is far from certain (for reasons of procedure and levels of support in the Commons) and would simply create further dilemmas. If some, but not all, of Labour’s ‘red lines’ were met, would it then back the government? Some argue that several of those red lines have already been met, so at what point does this become an acceptable Brexit for Labour?

Labour Brexit pic

With little prospect of a general election nor of substantial amendment, the push for a second referendum becomes more central. Following the hard-won compromise agreed at conference in September, a referendum would have to present the electorate with a choice between May’s deal and remain. This seems more likely than a general election, if for no other reason than it presents a way out of the parliamentary impasse, possibly the only way.

It would still be a messy process, requiring a pause in the withdrawal process, a referendum bill in parliament and a referendum itself. But it is just about conceivable that such a route could get parliamentary support and there is increasing poll evidence that voters do want another say.

Even if a people’s vote came about, however, it’s still unclear what Labour’s position would be. After all, its existing policy is to leave the EU. Having achieved a people’s vote, would it then campaign to remain, even though its general election policy is to leave?

The choices are far from easy, but the party leadership must bear some of the blame for this. In seeking to triangulate between leave-supporting voters in Labour ‘heartlands’ and ardent remainers elsewhere, and among the party’s membership and MPs, it has fudged the Brexit issue for too long. Opportunities to delay the process – such as when triggering Article 50 – were squandered. And the prospect of building a coalition of support to reverse the decision of June 2016, in parliament and the country, has been impossible when the party line has been one of prevarication and fudge.

Such an approach arguably had some value up until the 2017 election when it could be ‘all things to all people’ and escape serious scrutiny. But the nearer we come to the Article 50 deadline, the deeper is the dilemma and the higher the stakes.

At the moment, it is unclear what opposing May’s deal will mean and what alternative route the party is offering parliament and the country. Without clarity on this, the forces pushing to accept a deal ‘in the national interest’ have a clearer run.

The opposition front bench, which should be leading the fight against May in parliament, providing a focal point around which to coalesce the various discontents, remains muddled and directionless. Popular opposition to Brexit, illustrated by the massive anti-Brexit rally in London in October, has been met with a deafening silence from the party leadership.

What we have, on the face of it, is a party leadership willing to stand on principle and challenge public opinion where it needs to – on immigration, refugees or discrimination say – yet curiously unwilling to campaign to change the views of leave voters. Maybe it is true that Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s traditional anti-EU leftism remains in place and they secretly welcome the prospect of leaving the EU. If so, it flies in the face of their often stated commitment to party democracy – that they would respect the wishes of the membership on issues of policy.

Recent polls have dispelled almost entirely any remaining doubt about the views of increasing numbers of Labour members and voters. Indeed, the anti-Brexit feeling was evident at party conference when Keir Starmer’s declaration that “nobody is ruling out remain as an option” prompted a standing ovation and an almost palpable sense of relief that a member of the front bench was giving voice to what many party members hold dear.

As former Corbyn advisor Richard Murphy has argued, “Labour really has to argue to stay and reform. It is the only credible position.”

Time is short but Labour can vacillate no longer. The closer we come to the Article 50 deadline, the clearer becomes the price of leaving the EU. If Labour doesn’t seize the initiative now, and express greater clarity on where it wants to take the country, May’s faltering leadership could rapidly be replaced by something far worse.


See also: ‘Brexit: Labour’s fading red lines’, by Will Brown.

Click here for more on Brexit.


  1. Harry Barnes
    17 January 2019

    This House of Commons Library item is valuable in covering proceedural matters arising from the vote which Theresa May lost on Tuesday. –

  2. Harry Barnes
    14 January 2019

    Given that the EU has now agreed a small adjustment (or clarification) to the backstop agreement, I am for supporting the government’s current deal because (a) it is line with the decision of the referendum and (2) it fits in with the line taken by the clear majority of impoverished people from our working class areas.

    We need to keep the latter on board which will then help Labour to push for improving their conditions. If Labour loses them, it may then start to put the well-being of others ahead of them and forget what it is supposed to be about – although I accept that there are other key claims we also need to further, especially in relation to climate change and tackling world-wide poverty, conflicts and expliotation.

  3. Jonathan Timbers
    14 January 2019

    I think it may be possible to renegotiate a customs union. If necessary, we can revoke Article 50, hold another referendum, get another mandate to leave but on better terms and then proceed from there. Whilst I don’t think Jeremy sounds all that convincing (and I’m not sure he really understand what’s going on if his state aid comments are anything to go by), his position isn’t as silly as it initially looks.

  4. Harry Barnes
    12 January 2019

    Along with most Labour Party members, I received the following. At its close I give my reply. Time is very short on the matters he both raises and ignores.

    From: Jeremy Corbyn
    Subject: The people need an election

    Dear Harry,
    The Brexit deal Theresa May has negotiated is a bad deal and Labour will vote against it next week.
    If the government can’t pass its most important legislation then there must be a general election.
    The real divide in our country is not between those who voted to remain in the EU and those who voted to leave. It’s 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.
    I put it like this: if you’re living in Tottenham, you may well have voted to remain. You’ve got high bills, rising debts, you’re in insecure work, you struggle to make your wages stretch, you may be on Universal Credit and forced to use a food bank. You’re up against it.
    If you’re living in Mansfield, you’re likely to have voted to leave. You’ve got high bills, rising debts, you’re in insecure work, you struggle to make your wages stretch, you may be on Universal Credit and forced to use a food bank. You’re up against it.
    But you’re not against each other.
    Only Labour can bring people together based on their common interests. Whether they voted to leave or remain, people know that the system isn’t working for them.
    Because it’s a system rigged against the many, to protect the interests of the few – that’s the real cause of inequality and insecurity in Tottenham, Mansfield and across the country.
    That’s why an election is so urgent – and why we must win it. And what will make the difference? Your campaigning and your energy.
    So in a speech today in Wakefield, I sent the prime minister a message: if you’re so confident in your deal, call the election, and let the people decide.
    But if you don’t, Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the government, at the moment when we judge it has the best chance of success.
    If we can’t get an election, then we’ll keep all options on the table, including campaigning for a public vote, as our members decided at Conference last September.
    But an election is the best outcome because it enables us to tackle the Tories’ cuts to public services, their awful Universal Credit, rising homelessness, and all the other issues that are damaging our communities.
    Together, we have the chance to transform our country for the many, not the few.
    Thank you.
    Jeremy Corbyn

    Dear Jeremy,
    If Labour succeeds in defeating the government over Theresa May’s Brexit proposals and this leads us on to a general election, what will our stance then be on the Brexit issue?
    For we can’t just ignore the matter, however important the non-Brexit points you stress. If a Labour government would seek to strike a better deal with the European Union, then what type of deal will it be looking for? And what will be the chances of the EU making significant concessions to such proposals? Apart from pressing for your current “something we know not what”, aren’t we really faced with the following options?
    I present these in what seems to me to be the order of their acceptability/unacceptability.
    (1) An improvement on the current agreement based on the deal which has been struck with Theresa May – especially in relation to the back-stop agreement.
    (2) To accept the current agreement in full.
    (3) To seek a fresh agreement on the lines of the Canadian trade deal – but this is likely to be unacceptable to the EU.
    (4) To seek a fresh referendum on the issue – the results which could place us back into the current situation.
    (5) To seek an agreement similar to that made with Norway, where they are virtually members of the EU without having any internal say over its operations. It would really violate the referendum decision and only provide us with a limited cover.
    (6) To seek a fresh referendum on the issue – the results us which could place us back into the current situation.
    (7) Brexit without any agreement at all.
    (8) We just ignore the result of the referendum.
    What have I missed?
    All the best,
    Harry Barnes

  5. Jonathan Timbers
    8 January 2019

    I don’t understand how voting for WTO rules – or existing outside the EU with its common environmental and employment standards – could ever be a vote to leave a capitalist club. Did anyone think that outside the EU, it’s socialism all the way?

    Plus, working class people did not vote for Brexit – older, male white working class people did, in big numbers. That isn’t true when you look at Black working class people, younger working class people or working class women.

  6. Harry Barnes
    18 December 2018

    Here is a link to an imporant publication of 12 December by the House of Commons Library called “The Backstop Explained”.

  7. Harry Barnes
    6 December 2018

    Hello Ernie,

    Hopefully we will meet up at the ILP event this weekend. And whilst the Brexit debate is not presented as a specific item on the agenda, it can hardly be avoided. For we wiil be looking at ways in which social democrats can progress their values on a much-transformed and still rapidly changing national and internatonal canvas.

    My major criticism of the EU is that it does not have a decent democratic framework. Its parliamentary operations are swamped by deals between commissioners and the Euro ministers from the members states. This has led to it not having a decent social programme. But because of trading advantages it gives a form of help to its member states. I was for remaining, yet pressing to overcome its shortcomings. Labour, for instance, needed to work with fellow social democrats inside the EU (and even wider) inside the ‘Party for European Socialists’. But Labour never did much of this. Yet it can still move into this avenue even if we now leave.

    I voted to remain. But because the vote went the other way (and many deprived working class people voted to leave and we need to relate to them), I am for accepting the result of the referendum. And I do not favour a new referendum. Yet I reject a Boris-style extreme Brexit which I feel would give us a trading crash.

    So I have been for striking an exit deal with the EU. The shortcomings of the deal which the government has struck is not, however, all our government’s fault. It has faced the intransigence of the EU. Nor do I see how a newly elected Labour government could strike a much of a better deal. Then, if it doesn’t, it looks as if it will call a fresh referedum via which we will finally lose masses of our past impoverished working class support – many by non-voting in general elections. Labour will then fail to pursue working class interests and (even under Corbyn) we will then have fewer MPs representing our traditonal support and being liable to take up such local constituency concerns.

    So my attitude on the current deal is that Labour should not vote against it unless it can show that a better deal is on the cards. Many Labour MPs will still do whatever they want. But let us get a deal (which might have to be the current one) and then move on to pick up the pieces. We can then remain in a position to seek to work with and encourage support and involvement from wide elements of the working class who are now deserting us. For what will even Corbynism be like when it mainly rests on middle-class support ?

  8. Ernie Jacques
    4 December 2018

    Harry Barnes is spot on with his last post when pointing up the disconnect between Labour’s stance on Brexit (most MPs and the membership) and the electorate in many working class communities.
    Right also to draw attention to the way ‘Labour will increasingly come to ditch (and not seek to engage with) traditional labouring people.’

    Well Harry, do you also accept that that process has been a growing feature of Labour politics for 40 years or more? I believe this is one of the reasons for the Brexit vote, made even worse since by the cacophony of noise, insults and abuse by those in the party whose love of all things EU seems to know no bounds and who have never accepted the referendum result and want to turn the biggest democratic plebiscite in UK history on its head.

    We have far too many middle class Labour MPs and trendy members who accept democracy when it suits them and when the plebs do as they are told. Does anyone honestly think that these same MPs and Labour supporters would accept the re-running the referendum if the remain side had won?

    Contrast this noise with the less than fulsome criticism of the existing neoliberal order and especially the way successive Labour governments and Labour councils have been abetting the hideously unequal, unfair and inhuman society with have today. A society with millions reliant of food-banks, who are jobless, homeless and working for slave labour wages.

    Labour might be mildly more humane than the Tories (but that’s not hard) but is equally complicit in its support of the privatisation and outsourcing of public services and the selling off of public assets for the benefit of the few and not the many. Everyone with half a brain knows that when you privatise and outsource jobs, the result is bad news for the employees and megabucks for the rich and those with power. And when it comes to social care, it ends in shocking levels of care, bordering on abuse, the gross exploitation of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens, a good kicking for its carers and a bad deal for British taxpayers. And it’s the same with housing – people in their millions living in slum conditions while landlords are subsidised by tenants and taxpayers to the tune of billions. It’s economic madness and fairness turned on its head.

    We live in a society where the poor and middle Britain pay taxes and the rich, powerful and multinational corporations pay relatively little.

    Over the past 40 years (while part of the EU), no matter what political tribe has been in power, Tory, Labour, coalition, the direction of travel has been the same – working people, the poor and vulnerable have been ruthlessly treated in the name of change, efficiency and modernism; made redundant and forced to accept worthless jobs, crap conditions of employment and to exchange living wages for minimum waged, zero hour contracts and poverty living.

    Corporate Britain and the rich and powerful, aided-and-abetted by the political class and establishment, including Labour politicians in parliament and county halls across our nation, have hoovered wealth off the poor and left them to rot on sink estates and in deprived neighbourhood communities across the nation. And the noise and campaigns against this has been a whisper in comparison to those campaigning for a people’s (EU remain) vote.

    The hypocrisy of these Labour EU junkies is breathtaking and shocking in its scale and barefaced intensity – and, Harry, methinks is the reason for the Brexit vote amongst many working people and traditional Labour voters.

    No doubt many Labour and ILP members (although there aren’t many ILPers today) will not accept this analysis, and will point to some of the good things that Labour nationally and locally have done and are doing. But that is a cop-out, insofar as the direction of travel is clear – the rich and powerful have done great and increased their wealth exponentially while the people Labour claims to represent have suffered horrendously. Hitler liked dogs and he created full employment, but that does not make him in anyway one of history’s nice guys.

    At the end of the day Harry (and ILPers), if we want a fair and caring society, it will come via the election of a Corbyn-like, social democratic government with an economic and political manifesto that will be inimical to big money interests and the rules and treaties of the European Union.

    Anything else is wishful thinking, political chicanery and an Alice in Wonderland dreamland.

  9. Harry Barnes
    21 November 2018

    Here is a proposal that is worth pursuing

  10. Harry Barnes
    20 November 2018

    Unfortunately, we have no constitutional provisions for holding referendums. It would help if we had a serious debate across Great Britain to determine this. It would probably work best as part of a written constitution. Labour opened a road to this under Ed Miliband when we called for a serious enquiry and debate around a Constitutional Convention. But although for a period after Miliband departed we had front benchers given such a responsibility, little happened and the matter disappeared as a front bench task.

    Short of a Great Britain Constitutional Provision, there was a case for holding referendums (a) before we joined, rather then afterwards under Wilson, and (b) whenever major treaty changes such as Maastricht were in front of us. This pattern may have helped to keep the last referendum off the agenda.

    I was not in favour of the recent referendum, but voted to remain although there are characteristics of the EU that I would very much wish to see reformed. Its decisions (under changed treaty provisions as detemined by referendums) should be made by the European Parliament. Labour movements throughout the EU should push for it to adopt social programmes within the scope of its treaties. And seek new extended Treaty obligations to extend such matters.

    I did not want our recent referendum and voted to remain. But the vote went against this. I accept the result and do not think that we should fiddle around to get it changed. Within the decision, I look for a soft Brexit rather than a hard one. But I feel that we should respect the basis of the decision, especially as those we need to link with from deprived sections of the working class voted to leave. It will be difficult to engage with them in future if we just ignore them.

  11. Will Brown
    20 November 2018

    Thanks to both Harry and Ernie for replying to my post. While we do not agree on Labour’s position there are areas where our views coincide and I’ll touch on those first.

    I agree with Harry that Labour should have moved earlier and with more decisiveness to press for a better Brexit, instead it waited until too late in the day to make an impact. I think it should also have delayed triggering Article 50 (indeed this was the main point I made in the earlier 2017 article I referred to above). I also agree that pursuit of ‘the exact same benefits’ as membership would deliver, is an impossibility.

    I agree with Ernie that there is a need to address the issues that lead people to support Brexit and that Corbyn and McDonnell’s ‘vaguely social democratic’ approach is aimed at doing this. I also agree that the debate needs to be conducted in a civilised way, although I do not accept that the insults and name calling are all on the remainers’ side. Democratic debate within the party and more widely must be conducted in a way that accepts a diversity of views. Since 2015 the ILP has published more than one call for just such tolerance and an embrace of pluralism, and I’m happy to reiterate that here.

    However, I disagree with both Harry and Ernie when they say that the referendum result should not be challenged. As a general rule, I don’t think that any democratic decision is final or irreversible, so long as challenging it or reversing it is done by democratic means. That is why we have elections every few years, after all. I know referendums are different but I think there are still reasons why a second referendum is needed: because we need a way out of a parliamentary impasse that doesn’t look like shifting anytime soon; because we know far more of the terms of the decision – what leaving will mean – than we did in 2016 (or even in June 2017); and, more for tactical reasons, because there is some evidence that voters, including in Labour areas, want a second say.

    I would also note that being ‘left behind’ wasn’t the only underlying factor in the leave vote. There was also a 30-year campaign by right wing, wealthy media and politicians to bring the UK out of Europe. John Harris, far from an incorrigible remainer, has recently come to the view that leaving the EU is an attack on the very working class communities Labour should be defending. The 2016 vote cannot therefore only be seen in a ‘masses versus the elite’ terms. The elite is split on this issue and that split has riven the Tory party for decades.

    However justified you may think leave voters may have been in voting the way they did, including former Labour voters in working class areas, there is still every right for those who disagree with that decision to voice that disagreement, and there seems to me to be an increasingly strong case that reversing that decision is the best we can hope for. I agree that doing so comes with enormous risks, will be difficult to achieve in practical terms, and that staying in the EU is far from problem-free. But it seems to me to be the best out of a range of increasingly bad options.

  12. Disqusthrower
    20 November 2018

    Completely agree with the Harry Barnes’s post. Labour needs to offer an alternative that is realistically achievable in the time remaining. It cannot speak for what the EU or ECJ will do unless it has assurances. Remaining is not a trivial matter.

  13. Ernest Jacques
    17 November 2018

    As an EU remainer Will Brown is not alone in a Labour Party whose membership is hugely in favour of ignoring the will of the people and the 2016 referendum result. The largest UK plebiscite ever, with 51.9% (17,410,742) voting out with 48.1% (16,141,241) voting remain. The accusations and noise from many remainers, since day one, has been deafening and the volume of abuse and hate against the thicko, xenophobic working class, who had the temerity to vote out, on social media and elsewhere, is unbelievably vitriolic and shameful.

    Of course, we can debate, and agree to disagree, the value of EU membership with some like me holding the view, that while the European Union has lots to recommended it, at its core it is a big money capitalist club (and has been since its inception and the Treaty of Rome). It pays lip service to any meaningful concept of democracy.

    All the centralising EU treaties since have been nodded through by the political elites who never once, anywhere, called for a people’s vote. So, from my perspective the EU is a bit like the Tory party, it is unreformable and a big money institution. And some of Labour’s peoples vote advocates – you know, Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Umunna, – are more than a little self-serving and hypocritical.

    Politics is about airing disagreements but the insults and name calling by tens of thousands of remainers (MPs and journalists included) whose obsession with EU membership has been anything but. Of course, many remainers, are not amongst these rabble rousers, but it would be helpful if thoroughly decent people and nuanced political thinkers like Will Brown would, occasionally, denounce Labour’s hate fuelled demagogues.

    More to the point, it would be better still if they addressed the issues that led to huge numbers of UK citizens (the left behind and forgotten) voting to leave. Over 40 years, under consecutive Tory, Labour and coalition governments, many traditional Labour voters were made redundant and left to rot in sink-estates and deprived neighbourhood communities with hardly a whisper, compared to the deafening noise made in the wake of that 23 June 2016 referendum vote.

    Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, unlike the New Labour (Blair, Brown) elites, seem to accept that the referendum result was, in large measure, an anti-establishment vote against those who would have us believe there is no alternative to neoliberal politics, trickledown economics and the never-ending privatisation and monetising of our NHS, education and criminal justice system. In response, Labour under Corbyn has outlined a different kind of politics, a vaguely social democratic economic and industrial strategy, which includes the nationalisation of rail, energy and water, a state investment bank and more stringent market regulation. For those who believe EU will allow a state monopoly in any of these strategic industries and in key public services, where privatisation has failed both consumers and workers, dream on.

    We can, if the British public want, get rid of the Tory government and replace it with a Corbyn administration committed to some fundamental reforms, fairness and to sharing the nation’s income and wealth. A big ask, but reforming the European Commission is an impossible dream.

    To my mind, Will Brown and Labour’s peoples’ vote advocates should give some thought to, and answer, that conundrum.

  14. Harry Barnes
    17 November 2018

    I hope that this is the start of an urgent and much needed debate about Brexit on the ILP website. I give below my own stance which differs from Will’s in a number of respects. It is an item I placed on my blog yesterday. I later hope to relate my points more closely to Will’s presentation. The dialectics of debate amongst fellow socialists has seldom been more important.

    This is what I wrote on my blog:

    Although I did not want a referendum and voted to remain when it was forced upon us, I accept that I lost out on both counts.

    Whilst I see a fully-fledged Brexit as being a disaster, I do not support the idea of having a fresh referendum on the issue. To do so would be to fly in the face of the decision, which was backed especially by many of those who at one time were often solid working class Labour supporters and are now some of the most deprived and excluded members of our society.

    So Labour should have moved to a position where it pressed for the best deal we could feasibly look for. Using avenues to pressurise the government and to push the EU negotiators. One avenue to mobilise support would have been via our membership of the Party of European Socialists.

    Instead, Labour very late in the day and never previously having fully covered such combined areas, finally adopted its six tests. Five of these (depending on how they are interpreted) seem to me to be feasible, although they emerged far too late. These seek
    (1) “a strong and collaborative relationship with the EU”
    (2) “the fair management of migration”
    (3) to “defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom”
    (4) to “protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime”
    (5) to “deliver for all regions and nations of the UK”. The area of greatest concern in the final category seems to me to be Northern Ireland.

    But there is also a further item which seems to me to be an impossibility. Namely to “deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ we currently have as members of the single market and customs union”.

    First of all, the EU negotiators are never going to agree with this. If somehow they did, it would virtually mean that we would be placed in an impossible position. We would retain the key elements of our current membership of the EU without having any internal say over these matters in the future. That seems to me to be a democratic nonsense – even if the EU isn’t all that democratic a body. (Some of us have a long record of pressing for its democratic and social improvement.)

    As the above item will not (and should not) be granted in full, Labour is then likely to call for a fresh referendum. I am totally against such an idea. We should not have a second referendum just because some people did not like the result of the first one. Not, at least, until we enter a new era, when the question might then be whether we reapply for EU membership.

    The problem we currently face is that although only a slightly tweaked version of Theresa May’s proposals can ever be put to parliament within the current timescale, they are (with inadequacies) the best we can expect. Labour should adopt an official parliamentary position of either giving them critical support or calling for abstentions. Come what may, some Labour MPs will disobey any whips’ recommendations. But the Party’s official stance is important.

    Whatever suicide moves take place on the Conservative, SNP and DUP benches, Labour should not officially participate in the same game. Then perhaps some Labour common sense might have an impact on the final outcome.

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