Labour is inching back towards the “Remain [in the EU] and Reform” stance it took in the June 2016 referendum, but only inching. The deep discredit of the Tories’ Brexit formula makes it urgent for Labour to switch back fully — and in the meantime for anti¬Brexit Labour people to organise to develop a pro¬Labour, anti-Brexit public profile.
John McDonnell, on Newsnight 21 November, said bluntly that even if the Tories were to let Labour form a minority government now, in terms of the 585¬page withdrawal formula, the subject of the vote on 11 December, “we’re talking about finalising a deal, we’re not talking about starting from scratch”. (A Labour government could change more in the post¬2020 arrangements sketched in the accompanying 26-page “declaration” that the Tories have agreed with the EU; but even then, not much). No Brexit withdrawal deal that Labour could in conscience support is on the table.
The conclusion is inescapable: Labour should declare that experience has confirmed that Brexit is wrong, and press for a new referendum in the light of that experience.
As we go to press on 4 December, the government looks almost certain to lose the parliamentary vote on its Brexit “withdrawal deal” on 11 December. The DUP MPs from Northern Ireland, on whom the government rests for its majority, pledge to vote against. They have consolidated that position by backing a successful motion (on 4 December) which made this Tory administration the first government ever to be indicted as “in contempt of Parliament” (for not publishing its full legal advice on the deal). Many Tory MPs are set to vote against the deal, and no Labour MP now talks of voting with the government on the deal.
Many different possibilities open up after the Commons votes down the “withdrawal deal”. The government may bring the deal back for a second vote, maybe after securing tweaks the document it has agreed with the EU on UK¬EU relations after the “transition period” due to run from March 2019 to December 2020 or later. Maybe it can get a “side letter” on interpretation of the documents agreed with the EU to improve its chances on a second vote.
The level of disarray makes a “no deal” exit not impossible, though it looks unlikely, since no party would want to be seen as responsible for such an outcome, and the great bulk of the ruling class on all sides is very opposed to “no deal”. The government may be forced to seek a postponement of the 29 March 2019 Brexit date, while it casts around for some formula which can win a Parliamentary majority. The government may be forced into a referendum on the deal, or be toppled, leading to an early general election.
The bottom line is that no Brexit formula has majority support in Parliament, or in the electorate. If a Brexit formula does eventually get through Parliament, it will be only because MPs have been cornered into accepting that it’s that formula, or “no deal”.
The latest opinion surveys, on 28¬29 November, show 42% saying Parliament should pass the deal if the only alternative is “no deal” (32% for “no deal”, 26% don’t know). 32% say Parliament should pass the deal if the only alternative is to stay in the EU (43% for “stay”, 25% don’t know). It makes no sense to say that this deal should be allowed through in deference to the June 2016 referendum decision.
Make Labour oppose Brexit! If the Labour leaders won’t do that, the anti¬Brexit Labour rank and file must and will organise to put out a pro¬Labour and anti¬Brexit message. On that basis, Labour can force a general election and a new vote on Brexit.