The Skwawkbox website, which is close to leading officials in the Labour Party Leader’s Office, has floated the idea of Labour abstaining in the parliamentary vote on the Tories’ Brexit deal. That would let the deal pass even if the DUP and the Tory ultra¬Brexit right still vote against.
On 6 January, Skwawkbox wrote: “To take effect, May’s deal must first pass the ‘meaningful vote’ in the Commons – stage 1 – and then an Act of Parliament must be passed to bring it into force.
“Labour could not support May’s deal – but an abstention on stage 1 would bring things to the point where the DUP would be faced with a choice...”
The DUP’s current line is that it will vote no confidence in the government if the deal passes, but will continue to give it confidence until then. Skwawbox’s tentative “cunning plan” is that letting the deal pass would tip the DUP into backing “no confidence”, “opening the door to a general election by 21 March and the opportunity for a Corbyn government to seek an extension to Article 50 when the EU commission meets that week”.
So the idea is that the voting-through of May’s deal would be rendered harmless by the government falling before it can do the detailed legislation for it. Then Labour would go to the electorate having said that the Tories’ deal was not so bad as to vote against it. And voters would know that Labour was responsible for the situation where just a week before the unchanged Brexit date of 29 March, no one would know whether there would be a “no deal” crash¬Brexit, a Tory¬deal Brexit, or the EU agreeing to postpone. (It is, by the way, not yet Labour front¬bench policy even to propose a postponement). What a mess!
The same day, 6 January, Skwawkbox praised Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner for a “perfect exposition of Labour Brexit policy”. “Labour will fight for a general election — and will go to the people on a plan to negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU, which the EU will accommodate because of a new government coming to the table without May’s impossible, mutually incompatible red lines”.
What about a new public vote, which a big majority of Labour members and Labour supporters want? Gardiner put that off to the remote future. “Gardiner’s personal opinion is that it might then make sense to put the new deal to the people – but it would be a deal that would aim to unite the UK”.
The Labour frontbench’s proposed negotiating agenda is different from the Tories’ really only in proposing that the UK should stay in the Customs Union. But that is a matter not covered in the withdrawal deal (it’s only in the non¬binding “declaration on future relations” after the “transition period” in which the UK remains in the Customs Union anyway). It would leave the Irish border question un¬fixed. Avoiding a “hard border” requires Single Market regulations applying both sides of it.
No renegotiated deal is going to “unite the UK”, from free movement supporters at one end to Tory and DUP hard¬Brexiters at the other. What Labour can do is fight for what the big majority of Labour members, Labour voters, and the labour movement want — a new public vote which will stop Brexit.
Postscript 11 January: The Fixed Term Parliaments Act says that if the government is forced into an early general election by two votes of no confidence 14 days apart, then the date of that election is set by the Queen "on the recommendation of the prime minister". In 2017 the early general election was called for a date 52 days after the parliamentary vote for it. There would be no legal bar on the Tories adopting a longer delay. 52 plus 14 makes 66, and 66 days before 29 March, which is day 88 of the year, takes you to 22 January, which is the earliest day Skwawkbox reckons possible for a vote of no confidence. Then the general election would be on 29 March, and by the time the results were known, Brexit would have happened...