71 Labour MPs looked at Theresa May’s historic clusterfuck and attacked Jeremy Corbyn on 16 January. In a letter calling for a second referendum, 28% of Labour MPs pushed false Conservative attack lines against their own party.
‘May’s deal is the only Brexit’
The first Conservative line the Labour MPs adopted is that May’s deal is the only Brexit possible. The letter states:
It is now clear renegotiation is not a realistic prospect.
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That statement is completely at odds with what the EU chief negotiator has reemphasised since May decisively lost the Brexit vote. Speaking to the European Parliament, Michel Barnier said:
I would like to remind you that your parliament, and unanimously the European council, have always said that if the UK chooses to shift its red lines in the future, and it makes that choice, a choice to be ambitious, and go beyond a simple free trade agreement, which would be quite something, then the European Union will be immediately ready to go hand in hand with that development and to give a favourable response.
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So the Labour MPs’ claim is not only untrue, but it undermines Labour’s Brexit proposal for a permanent customs union and a deal based around facilitating its manifesto.
‘Austerity is inevitable’
The Labour MPs also effectively pushed the Tory line that austerity is inevitable, suggesting it would be a natural consequence of the deal, rather than a counterproductive policy of choice:
The Tory Government approach has been disastrous since day one. Their plans would lead to more austerity, fewer jobs and less money for our public services. This is not what anyone voted for in 2016.
But no form of Brexit automatically means more cuts. Because the UK has control over its own currency, leaving the budget down to the UK Treasury. Also, austerity only extracts money from the economy when governments should be investing. That’s why even the conservative International Monetary Fund (IMF) has admitted that the ideology is flawed.
So, the Labour MPs signing this letter are effectively endorsing the Conservatives’ shambolic economic strategy. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many of the MPs signing come from the Blairite wing, including Chris Leslie, Margaret Hodge, Chuka Umunna and Owen Smith.
The serious problems with a second referendum
The letter also says that “pushing for a General Election may prove impossible”. But the MPs do not explain how a second referendum would be achieved fast enough. In accordance with Electoral Commission process, a referendum needs around five months for question formulation and campaign time. And before that, parliament would have to agree that another vote is the way forward. It’s anyone’s guess how long that could take, given it involves overriding the vote of around 17 million people and that 75% of Tory and 61% of Labour seats voted Leave. Time for officials to prepare for the poll is also needed.
Five months plus time for parliament to agree would take us over May 23, the date European elections begin. This is a major EU red-line:
What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the UK could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections. #Brexit #EPlenary
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) January 16, 2019
On top of that, a second referendum may not actually solve anything. Even if the combination of a Tory backbench rebellion and Labour brought about the vote, it probably wouldn’t change the deadlock we have in parliament.
75% of Conservative seats voted Leave. So the Conservative Party (that would still be in government with DUP support) and Leave voters may well view a Remain victory as illegitimate. That risks plunging the UK into an even deeper constitutional crisis.
A general election is the only way forward
By contrast, a general election can happen in about six weeks. This is how long it took in 2017. And with the Conservatives on the ropes on every issue, the likely result would be a Labour majority. In 2017, the Corbyn-led movement increased Labour’s vote share by more than at any point since 1945. The party rose around 20 points in the polls and the Labour manifesto – not a summary, the raw document – went viral online. This time the party would not have an uphill struggle, beginning the campaign neck and neck with the Conservatives.
A Labour majority would solve the parliamentary deadlock and enable the UK government to deliver on Brexit with a completely different set of priorities centred around addressing the root causes of the Brexit vote – austerity and inequality.
Meanwhile, a section of the Parliamentary Labour Party seems more concerned with attacking their own leadership. Nobody should be surprised – these are the same people who’ve been trying to undermine the Corbyn-led movement since day one.
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