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Friday, March 30, 2018

Has Labour finally sold out on Brexit?

It we thought that Labour's lukewarm opposition on Brexit was a sign of indecision and ineffectiveness then their Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry finally put paid to that earlier this week. She unveiled the real agenda of the Labour leadership when she told a Chatham House event that the party would most probably vote for the final deal.

This was apparently news to the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, whose efforts to keep Labour on the straight and narrow have been roughly akin to a tight rope walker navigating the sharp edge of a razor blade.

Starmer emphasised Labour's “six tests” that any agreement must meet (including delivering the “exact same benefits” as membership of the single market and customs union) before the party would vote with the Prime Minister.

As the New Statesman points out, rather like Gordon Brown's “five tests” for euro membership, these appear deliberately unachievable (both the EU and the UK government have stated that Britain will not retain the “exact same benefits” after the planned transition period). They were also dismissed by Thornberry in her speech as inconsequential.

Chuka Umunna, one of Labour's leading pro-Europeans, responded in robust fashion:

“It is extraordinary and unacceptable that the shadow foreign secretary seems to be suggesting that some ‘blah blah’ from the Government will be enough to secure Labour’s support to write the Government a blank cheque for Brexit.

“It’s an old-fashioned idea but it is the job of the opposition to hold the government to account and that is what our members expect to see rather than blasé chat about ‘blah blah’ on the most important issue facing the country.

“The public will rightly take a very dim view of the Labour frontbench joining arm in arm with the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg and other Brextremists to vote for a Brexit which will cost jobs, damage living standards and leave our public services with less investment.”

However, he has become increasingly marginalised within Labour, a fate that Keir Starmer is working hard to avoid, apparently with little success.

If Labour do ditch their six conditions and vote for a Brexit deal that does not retain the benefits of the single market and customs union then they will have let down a large number of remainers who voted for them, as well as betraying the best interests of the country, finally divesting themselves of any right to be termed an opposition party.

Those remainers still holding out hope that Labour will come good, should not hold their breath.
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