The vast majority of Labour members oppose Brexit – we can make sure it ends with a bang rather than a whimper

Dan McCurry

Labour and Brexit

The last time Brexit faced a major hurdle was when the courts ruled the triggering of article 50 to be dependent on a parliamentary vote – and then the government angrily condemned the judiciary. It was an extraordinary moment, because it demonstrated the determination of Theresa May’s government to quash dissent. The message was clear. Brexit will happen. Nothing will deter the government’s policy.

Four weeks later, the OBR predicted a £60bn revenue cost of Brexit. Imagine the thunderous anger they must have expected from government? But, no, the study was incorporated into Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement. Objections were voiced by the usual suspects, but muted compared to what the judges got.  

So what has happened in four weeks that could morph this government from being war-like, to accommodating?

The first was that Narendra Modi rolled out red carpets, showed respect, appeared at numerous press calls with May, but ultimately wasn’t willing to talk about trade deals without the offer of an immigration deal in return. Modi must have known the talks were fruitless, but gave his time and efforts to the British prime minister regardless. That is a sign of respect, in stark contrast to the second event.

The desperate attempts of the May government to schedule a meeting with American president-elect demonstrates the daily humiliation of a country without power. He simply hasn’t returned our calls. The days of Thatcher/Reagan, Blair/Bush, or even Cameron/Obama, appear to be well gone.

Trump’s tweet, recommending Farage as ambassador, was probably a deliberate snub. Even if it wasn’t intentional, the president-elect was not sufficiently concerned with the sensitivities of the British that he bothered to check whether it was offensive. Either way, it demonstrates that our status is greatly diminished.

When we combine both Modi and Trump, the developing world and the superpower, together with the hostility from all the EU, we realise that the most recent promise of the Brexit campaign is the biggest lie of all. “Make Britain great again” has manifested itself in the UK being cast out, adrift, without influence in the world. We are number ten on the phone list of the American President, permanently.

It must finally be dawning on May that Brexit doesn’t have to mean Brexit. It can mean muddle through. After all, these things are only advisory.

Two headlines side by side on LabourList read Labour vote plunges in the north, and Watson mocks Lib Dem Brexit deniers.  I’d say the true scale of opposition to Brexit greater. Some 95 per cent of Labour members and well over 50 per cent of voters want an end to Brexit.

John McDonnell has said that Brexit presents “enormous opportunities” for Britain – yet he is unable to explain what those enormous opportunities are. Is it cast adrift? Out of control? Buried under red tape? Poorer? His speechwriter could have been Liam Fox. The fact is there are no opportunities. No one wants to renegotiate trade agreements with us, and even if they did, the terms would be less favourable than what we already have.

I can understand the need to pacify voters in the north, but they all know we are pro-EU. To pretend different just leaves the argument one-sided, and wrong-sided at that. The first rule of politics is that you stick to your beliefs, as that will gain you respect even with those who disagree with you. Whereas a political party that decides policy on the basis of the lowest common denominator, is a party suffering from a leadership vacuum.

If May is forming the view that Brexit is a Titanic disaster, then she will be able to avoid moving any further towards the policy, while Labour stupidly continues to champion it. In effect Brexit will die with a whimper rather than a bang. The opportunity for Labour to score a victory will be lost, in return for what? Don’t expect Labour to be rewarded for this humble acquiescence. Labour will be resented by those who wanted Brexit, and held in contempt by those who didn’t.

It’s not too late for Labour to change direction. If Brexit is to end then Labour can force it to end with a bang not a whimper. We can be the ones in control, not them. If we allow it to fade away then the opposite is true.

Ed Miliband lost the last election because he came across as lacking in boldness. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let’s make Labour a force to be reckoned with.

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