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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Why are Labour MPs being gagged on Brexit failures?

If the first duty of opposition is to oppose, its seccond duty is to hold the government to account through effective scrutiny. It is entirely bizarre therefore, to find this article in the Guardian, which reports that Labour MPs are being asked by the party’s high command not to focus on problems caused by Brexit when asking questions in parliament, dealing with the media, or posting on social media.

After a week in which Labour leader Keir Starmer delivered a major speech on how the country should rebuild the economy and reduce inequality without once mentioning Brexit, relations with the EU or the severe problems that have confronted many UK exporters since 1 January, senior party figures reacted with astonishment.

On Saturday night former cabinet member and Europe minister Peter Hain said Brexit had become the “elephant in the room” for Labour.

Hain told the Observer: “It’s quite understandable that Brexit has not been top of Labour’s agenda, but it’s not sustainable to ignore this elephant in the room hurting British businesses, our vital performing arts sector, our security and our foreign policy reach. The Tories delivered a last-minute mess of a Brexit with damaging consequences, not least to stability on the island of Ireland.”

One senior backbencher said the message from the top was very clear – that there should be virtual “radio silence” on the issue. “The order that is coming out is: ‘Don’t mention the war.’ We are being told that Keir wants to move on and that if we mention the B-word let alone suggest we a need better deal with the EU than Boris Johnson’s we are being unhelpful.”

Several sources said that MP Carolyn Harris, Starmer’s parliamentary aide with responsibility for coordinating with Labour members – including on what questions they ask at prime minister’s questions – had been discouraging interventions on Brexit, saying they would damage the leader.

With difficulties for UK exporters continuing and problems over the Irish protocol unresolved, one member of Starmer’s frontbench team said that attempts to “brush the problems under the carpet just because we wrongly voted for Johnson’s deal in December is pretty close to negligence”.

He added that Starmer was “terrified” of offending voters in red wall seats in the Midlands and north where pro-Brexit voters deserted Labour at the 2019 election.

Since 1 January Starmer has not raised Brexit or problems caused by it once at PMQs, and interventions on the issue from backbenchers have been rare. None of the shadow cabinet or frontbench team have made a speech in parliament on the issues affecting UK businesses.

The paper says that pressure is now building on Starmer and his shadow cabinet to lay out a vision of how he would try to improve access to the EU single market – the UK’s biggest export market – after it emerged that thousands of UK firms that export to the bloc are struggling with extra costs and bureaucracy, driving many to invest in warehouses and subsidiaries on the continent, while scaling down and laying off staff in the UK.

No serious party of opposition can afford to ignore these failures. If Labour are not prepared to show leadership because they are afraid of their own shadow then maybe they should step aside and let other parties take up the mantle of opposition instead.
If Labour cannot be the opposition in the red wall seats we should step in.I suspect that in these areas some will now regret their Brexit benefit decision
Peter and Nigel,

But how can we step in when our leader has led the great retreat from Rejoin already. The only people in a position to benefit from Conservative incompetence are the SNP in Scotland, Plaid in Wales and possibly the Greens in England. If the Greens do manage to build on their current position and get noticeably ahead of us in England, I don't think there will be a way back for our party.
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