Don’t expect a dramatic NEC showdown over Brexit today

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With little else to report on, journalists have gleefully cranked up the heat ahead of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting that is set to finalise the European manifesto. The draft, which has been drawn up by Jeremy Corbyn’s senior policy adviser Andrew Fisher, will be discussed by members of the ruling body from 11am this morning.

As outlined in yesterday’s morning email, there has been much grassroots activity in favour of a pure and simple public vote pledge, organised by groups such as Remain Labour and Another Europe is Possible – all with the encouragement of deputy leader Tom Watson. And some of the trade unions who are represented on the NEC – notably Unison, GMB and TSSA – are also expected to push for the party to back a referendum on any Brexit deal.

You’d be forgiven for expecting a dramatic showdown. But speaking to NEC members paints a different picture. One pointed out to me that the meeting is only scheduled to be two hours long (though it could overrun) and there has “never been a majority” for anything other than current policy. “This isn’t a Clause V manifesto meeting,” they said, touching on an argument that has also been made by anti-PV youth rep Lara McNeill. The rulebook states that the NEC “shall decide which items from the programme shall be included” – i.e. it is not a policy-making body, and should not deviate from what was decided at conference.

There are also concerns about “grandstanding” just two days away from tough Leave-area-dominant local elections (which everyone seems to have forgotten about, possibly as they aren’t in London). There is a strong feeling that most NEC members will prefer to focus on unity policy issues such as workers’ rights, environmental protections and tackling the far-right.

I’m told the public campaigning we’ve seen won’t reflect the more nuanced debate in the room, where “positioning with members” is less salient. Turnout will still be important: one CLP rep I spoke to was concerned about apologies that have already been given, particularly as the emergency meeting was called at short notice and there is no dial in option. But the real crunch moment will be at conference, or just before an early general election if there is one. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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