Why Labour isn’t tabling a ‘people’s vote’ amendment yet

Another Europe is Possible/Jess Hurd
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It’s going to be a big week for Brexit. I know we say that every other week, but we really mean it this time. Tomorrow, MPs will vote on Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement for a second time; with that defeated, MPs will vote on ‘no deal’ by Wednesday; with ‘no deal’ rejected, MPs will vote on extending Article 50 by Thursday. (It’s thought the second and third votes could both be taken on Wednesday to avoid prolonging the pain, though this would make it an absolutely packed day with the Spring Statement.) This is all assuming that the Prime Minister will keep to her commitments, which some of you might prefer to take with a truckload of salt.

The government may have peeled off a couple from Labour, certainly Jim Fitzpatrick and possibly Caroline Flint, which would total just five Labour rebels. There has been no breakthrough in Brussels, so if the deal is voted on, it will be heavily defeated again. Then the Commons is expected to vote down ‘no deal’. Then the most interesting vote of the week: extending Article 50. According to our latest readers’ survey, an overwhelming majority of you – 81.5% – say MPs should vote to delay Brexit, and only 14% think they shouldn’t. Well, it’s widely anticipated that you’ll get your wish – but that could trigger a massive Tory rebellion, leadership challenges, total chaos, no deal, etc.

Labour doesn’t seem to have quite figured out its position on extension. To be fair, the whole situation is a moving target. But Emily Thornberry saying that it would be limited to three months goes against the idea that the party now backs a ‘confirmatory’ referendum. Last month, Keir Starmer claimed that Labour support for another referendum would take the form of a “lock” on any Brexit deal, but that isn’t what John McDonnell said in his interview with Andrew Marr yesterday. “If parliament can’t agree the terms that Labour has put forward, there’s always that option of going back to the people,” the Shadow Chancellor resolved. Asked whether the preferred course of action would be to pass Labour’s deal then put that a public vote, he replied: “Not necessarily.” McDonnell then said “we might have to go for a confirmatory referendum”, but it’s clear that this isn’t Labour policy, despite what the Shadow Brexit Secretary has asserted in the past.

It was expected that Labour would table an amendment backing a fresh referendum at the second meaningful vote, i.e. tomorrow, but Starmer has confirmed this won’t be happening. If you’re a ‘people’s vote’ supporter who is disappointed by that news, perhaps don’t be. I am told that the People’s Vote campaign actually asked Labour to refrain from making the move this week, because they want to send a clear message: the ‘deal is dead’. They also know that they don’t have the numbers yet, and prefer to deny critics the opportunity to say, ‘ah well, there’s no majority for it, better move on’. This way, another public vote remains on the table. The problem? Three letters: TIG. (Oh, and the Lib Dems.) They could ignore calls to hold back in order to score points against Jeremy Corbyn. The best-laid plans of PVers and men… Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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