Keir Starmer has declared that “we’ll pull together” and “be united” amid reports that there are differences of opinion between the leader and the Shadow Chancellor on how the party should approach a vote on Brexit.
It has been reported by The Financial Times that Anneliese Dodds is among the shadow cabinet members arguing for Labour to abstain on any vote, ensuring that it cannot be blamed for the economic impact of Brexit.
According to the FT, those backing Dodds’ stance include Emily Thornberry, Bridget Phillipson and David Lammy, all of whom were strong advocates of a fresh public vote on Brexit ahead of the 2019 general election.
Asked about the splits, Starmer told Sky News today: “Labour is absolutely united. We’ve pulled together incredibly over the last few months through difficult decisions and we’ll do so on this decision again.”
He added: “Of course there are different opinions as you would expect, but we’ll pull together, discuss it as a team and be united.” The leader said he “can’t emphasise enough how a deal is in the national interest”.
If the government strikes a post-Brexit deal with the European Union, the government could put it to a vote in parliament – though this could also be dispensed with if a minister cites “exceptional” circumstances.
Labour is holding discussions to decide whether its MPs should be whipped to vote in favour of a deal or to abstain if such a vote takes place. Starmer has ruled out the possibility of telling Labour MPs to vote against.
The Labour leader has publicly confirmed: “I don’t think there’s a much of a case for voting against it when that would be effectively to vote for no deal.” The final decision will be made once Labour has seen a deal.
LabourList understands that the leadership is currently leaning towards voting in favour of a Brexit deal, rather than abstaining, partly because Labour has long argued that no deal would be the worst possible scenario.
Rachel Reeves told a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting last week: “Keir and I will read the deal. We are not being bounced into this decision.” But she made the case that a deal would be a platform for building on.
The Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office is understood to have argued that voting for a deal would not hold Labour back from criticising the government.
While it is thought a Tory Brexit deal will be bad for jobs and business, Labour frontbenchers agree that no deal would be worse – and those who agree with Starmer’s position say the party must take a clear line on such a critical issue.
Support for this line of thinking was expressed by MPs Hilary Benn, Liam Byrne, Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Sarah Owen, who wrote a piece for LabourList saying “even a bad Tory deal is better than no deal”.
Those who have come out publicly against Labour voting for a deal include backbencher Catherine McKinnell, who wrote for LabourList to warn against “rubber-stamping” the Tory plan and falling into a “trap”.
Anna Turley, the anti-Brexit former Labour MP for Redcar, has expressed similar concerns. She wrote: “It seems utterly bizarre for Labour to consider giving Johnson the triumph of a huge majority for his deal.”
Asked about the differences on Brexit between Starmer and Dodds, shadow minister Anna McMorrin told Politics Live today: “I would say neither of them have come up with a decision because neither of them have seen the deal.”
She added: “It is absolutely right that the shadow cabinet is having those robust discussions… What it is in the national interest will be our driving force – and that needs to be looking forward at what sort of relationship we want across the world with trading partners but also our closest neighbours and allies.”