Labour’s conundrum on a potential Brexit deal, explained

Brexit is now less than a month away. 

Yes, this is the actual Brexit where the UK leaves the European Union once and for all, deal or no deal. Unless the government goes for another extension…

While the Conservatives will most likely put on a united front regardless of the outcome, after all, they just wanted to ‘Get Brexit Done’ the situation is proving something of a headache for Labour and the party’s leader Keir Starmer.

What’s the main problem?

Starmer has been on the job as Labour leader for less than a year and inherited a party that was deeply divided on the issue of Brexit. Although the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn didn’t outright oppose leaving the European Union, they did back a second referendum on the issue as part of the pledge if they had won the 2019 general election. 

We all know that didn’t work out quite so well for Labour and Corbyn who declared that he was going to be stepping down as leader on election as the party faced one of its worst results in decades.

This leaves Labour at a crossroads.

Many of the seats Labour lost in the last election came from the so-called ‘red wall.’

These are heartland constituencies situated in the north of England and Wales as well as the Midlands. Labour could usually depend on these seats remaining with them but many of these constituencies would have voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum and decided to switch to the Conservatives in 2019 as they were the only major party seemingly willing to complete the Brexit process.

The tricky thing is, there’s no way of knowing what will happen next.

We all know that Brexit is still very much an uncertain prospect. Will the country prevail and go on to become an elite global trading power? Or will it flounder leaving the country trying to heal these self-inflicted wounds for years to come?

Well, given that there is now less than a month to secure a deal and that some of countries that the UK has managed to strike few deals so far, there isn’t much to get optimistic about.

According to Jim Pickard, of the Financial Times, internally Labour is in a conundrum should Boris Johnson obtain a deal from the EU in the next few days. Should that happen, a meaningful vote would be put before parliament, just like Theresa May used to do which MPs would have to approve. Given the Tories have the majority and as long as the prime minister has the backing of his own MPs, it's likely that the vote would be passed regardless. 

But Starmer and the shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, who is a former MEP, are reportedly divided on what Labour should do.

Do they vote for a deal?

According to Politico, Starmer would whip his MPs to back a Brexit deal, something which is said to be supported by shadow cabinet members such as Lisa Nandy, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Jonathan Ashworth and deputy leader Angela Rayner. The thinking behind this is that they need to show those seats that they lost in 2019 that Labour is at least now listening to them on the topic of Brexit in the hope that it might be able to win them back in the future. 

Or do they abstain from voting for a deal?

As already mentioned, Brexit is a huge leap of blind faith into international trading waters. At this moment. Nothing is guaranteed and there could be everything from economic collapse to food shortages and beyond. If any sort of catastrophic situation were to arise out of Brexit then some Labour shadow cabinet members fear that the party would take a share of the blame. Those who share those fears are said to be Anneliese Dodds, David Lammy, Emily Thornberry, Bridget Phillipson and Marsha de Cordova, who according to the Guardian have all made arguments for abstaining from any vote.

Dodds has spoken on the issue of a Brexit deal and in a speech given at Bloomberg on Wednesday, she said “It is not a foregone conclusion that we will emerge with a deal … If we do obtain a deal, media reports suggest it will be as thin as gruel.” In regards to Dodds, one source quoted by the Guardian has added "If there is a deal, she will want to go through it with a fine-tooth comb – that’s the way she operates. She will make a decision based on the evidence in front of her."

The report does state Starmer has since been confronted by his MPs in a private meeting and that he may now be more in favour of supporting a free vote or complete abstention, if not he could face up to 60 backbench MPs rebelling against him, which wouldn’t be a strong look so early into his leadership.

That being said, a shadow cabinet source is quoted as saying that there is unlikely to be any high-level resignations in relation this but "there have been healthy discussions about how we proceed from here."

Labour and Starmer have long been caught between a rock and a hard place on Brexit.

Backing a deal is likely to appease any voters that turned against them in 2019 but could also alienate the many pro-EU supporters that still back Labour and where many of the parties MPs still hold seats, whereas abstaining could have a vice versa effect. Critics of Starmer have called him out this year for seemingly propping up elements of the governments response to Covid-19 and they would surely love it if he were to back their Brexit deal should one come to pass.

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