Labour public vote pressures nix cross-party Brexit deal

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Cross-party Brexit talks resume today… again. More than five weeks after the negotiations first began, you might have assumed they would only be ongoing because at least one participant thought progress was being made. But that’s not the case. I believe there has been a genuine desire on both sides to come to an agreement, yet – as I’ve said before in this email – both leaders have been constrained by their parties.

While Brexiteers were naturally always opposed to the idea of softening of Brexit to win Labour votes, Theresa May has now also been advised by more Remain-y cabinet ministers previously supportive of the talks to pull the plug according to The Times. Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, et al. reckon it is now time for government-sponsored indicative votes. (Whether the Prime Minister goes down that route or launches directly into the riskier withdrawal agreement bill process remains to be seen.)

On the Labour side, Keir Starmer has gone public with his view that no Brexit deal can get through the Commons without a referendum attached, as this is a red line for so many Labour MPs. And describing Labour as the “remain and reform party” (a characterisation not recognised by multiple frontbenchers, nor the leader), Tom Watson repeated the Shadow Brexit Secretary’s estimated parliamentary arithmetic this morning. The government was never going to grant the wish of a public vote, so the notion of a Labour-Tory deal has been successfully quashed by PVers.

Labour’s deputy leader has been stepping up his calls for the party to shift on Brexit in the run-up to the European elections taking place in just 10 days. Last week, we reported on the second Future Britain Group meeting, which saw Watson set out a campaign strategy and express concerns about the possibility that Remain-supporting Labour voters will abstain on May 23rd. Today, he will deliver much the same message at a memorial lecture for the late former leader John Smith.

“If John was alive today… I have no doubt that he would have taken a stand very similar to that of his deputy, Margaret Beckett, and backed a People’s Vote as a way out of this destructive mess,” Watson will say at the Fabian event.

He believes the key to Labour’s vote holding up on May 23rd is portraying the election as a choice between the “nasty nationalism of the Farage Brexit Party” and “the tolerant, compassionate outward-looking patriotism of the Labour Party”. The hope is that this approach also plays into the ‘Farage paradox‘. The latest poll shows the Brexit Party getting more votes than Labour and the Tories combined, however.

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