This morning it was confirmed by the European Court of Justice that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50, remaining an EU member state “under terms that are unchanged”. Basically, it’s been made easier to stop Brexit. This will particularly buoy up ‘people’s vote’ campaigners, who see one less obstacle another referendum would have to face.
Whether the ECJ ruling affects Labour’s Brexit position divides opinion in the party, as you would expect. This was evident on Radio 4’s Today, when frontbencher Shami Chakrabarti said the result was predictable and did not change the political situation, but backbencher Margaret Beckett argued that it changed the “mood” of the country and MPs.
The big question of the weekend has been over whether Theresa May will pull the vote on Tuesday, as most expect her deal to be rejected by more than 100 votes. That scale of defeat would be historic. But the Brexit Secretary and other government spokespersons insisted yesterday that it would go ahead anyway. There is also much uncertainty around how that would be done, as it could require a minister to filibuster or make another move that would probably anger MPs.
So despite the heavy defeat anticipated by the Prime Minister, it looks for now as if it is going ahead as planned. The hope for No10 is that May will survive long enough to secure changes to the political declaration and ultimately drive the deal through parliament. The risk is that, immediately after the vote, Labour will throw things into chaos with a no-confidence vote in the government (though it’s likely to be lost, and looks as if Jeremy Corbyn plans to bide his time) or Tory MPs will trigger a leadership election.
In the midst of all this, has Labour shifted on Brexit? Every day, something said by Corbyn or John McDonnell is taken as an indication that the party is bending towards or away from another referendum. It happened again on Sunday, when Rosena Allin-Khan announced her support for a fresh public vote at the People’s Vote rally. The MP said she was convinced by her “Tooting Brexit poll”, which showed 90% of the 2,793 local residents who took part wanted a say. But she’s a shadow minister. (There are now three shadow ministers publicly backing PV: Steve Reed, another London MP, plus Roberta Blackman-Woods.)
Asked by Robert Peston whether Allin-Khan could stay on the frontbench, Corbyn replied: “I’ll have a discussion with her.” She won’t be asked to stand down, yet the Labour leader’s tone shows he remains unimpressed by the ‘people’s vote’ idea. It is clear that the Labour leadership still prioritises a general election and, crucially, a renegotiation, over another referendum. Those who think a referendum is current Labour policy – and I’m told there are members who do believe that – might want to keep that in mind.