Labour’s Indecision on Brexit Must End Now

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Even the British Labour party’s most ardent admirers would have to concede that the party doesn’t have the greatest track record on Brexit. They voted to have a referendum, and then voted to enact Article 50, and thereafter proceeded to vote against virtually every Brexit deal on offer. They voted against May’s deal in various forms 3 times, and then walked away from the bilateral talks. The collapse of May’s deal brought about two rounds of indicative votes, and in the first round Labour voted against EFTA and the EEA, Preferential arrangements, no deal, revoke, but FOR ‘Labour’s alternative plan’, whatever that was. Come the second round of indicative votes, many but not all Labour MPs backed the Customs union and ‘Common Market 2.0’ options. On no occasion did any of these options carry a majority in the House of Commons, resulting in the 'logjam' busting general election of 2019.

After the Conservatives won a landslide victory off the back of promising to ‘Get Brexit Done’ Labour got straight back into their stride, voting en mass against the withdrawal deal which had only weeks earlier received the historic and undeniable assent of the British people. Since that time Labour have gone to ground on the question of Brexit, much to the chagrin of Boris and his PMQ preppers who would like nothing more to deflect from governmental incompetence by reminding voters of Starmer’s ignoble history of Brexit obfuscation.

The Labour leader (then shadow minister) was the chief architect of Labour's 2nd referendum policy in 2019

If there is to be a Brexit deal, we’ll know about it by Monday, or at least that’s what the pundits are telling us. Naturally, Labour are wargaming the course of action they want to take. Starmer, who has proved politically astute since his ascension to the Labour leadership wants his party to vote FOR the deal, a smart decision since Brexit has now been shown to be the settled will of the people many times over at this stage, notwithstanding the fact Labour don’t have the numbers to block it in any case. However large elements within the Labour party apparently have an unquenchable desire for political self-annihilation; with the Guardian reporting that up to 60 Labour rebels, including shadow ministers, are set to rebel against Starmer’s directive to support a Brexit deal. Reportedly, one of those shadow ministers arguing against okaying a Brexit deal is Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, whose constituents voted for Brexit at a rate of 62% to 38%. When Labour promised to deliver Brexit in 2017, Phillipson won with an historic 60% of the vote. After winning on a mandate to deliver Brexit, Phillipson spent two years doing the polar opposite, as attests to:

‘On 11 Sep 2017: Bridget Phillipson voted against ending the supremacy of EU law in UK law; against converting EU law into domestic law on the UK's exit from the European Union and against giving ministers the power to correct deficiencies in retained EU law.’

‘On 17 Jan 2018: Bridget Phillipson voted against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.’

On 29 Mar 2019: Bridget Phillipson voted against leaving the EU with a [withdrawal] agreement as soon as possible and not to approve the negotiated withdrawal agreement and associated documents.’

The above are just a few examples of a voting record which reads like guerrilla warfare against not only the government, but against the voters of Sunderland who expected their representative to back the Brexit they had voted for. Just two years after winning an historic victory in Houghton and Sunderland South, Phillipson’s vote share fell by 20%, from 60% to 40%, and has to thank her constituents' historic and entrenched hatred of the Tories for her political survival, as opposition votes were split between the Tories, the Brexit party and UKIP. Of course, dozens of her colleagues were less fortunate.

The reason I explore the Phillipson case study is not because I have any animus toward this particular MP, but because she is typical of a great bulk of Labour MP’s who seem to be totally deaf to their constituents wishes, and complacent in their constituencies' historic support for the Labour party to continue without condition. This is politically toxic, and Starmer, ironically the man who represents a 73% Remain constituency, knows it all too well. Of course, this is why Starmer is the leader, and somebody like Emily Thornberry who is also reportedly looking to rebel, isn’t and never would be.

The fact that 60 Labour MP’s are still mulling this over reminds me of Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who, after having his arm severed in the first bout of combat, returned for more only to lose a leg, and so on, until he was nothing more than a head and torso immobile at the ground. Having abstained on the COVID restrictions, the MI6 bill, and in relation to the prevention of vexatious prosecution of veterans, there is a growing danger Labour, and its leader could become typecast as fence sitters. Starmer has a duty as the Labour leader to carry every single one of his MP’s in voting for a Brexit deal, should one come to fruition, whatever he thinks of it, if only for the optics. Hitherto the public have been largely inattentive to the daily doldrum of Westminster, but playing pointless oppositional politics might just be enough to draw undesirable attention in no small measure this time around. In voting for Brexit, nothing materially changes, but Labour are seen to be both decisive, and to be abiding by the wishes of the voters who rejected them last year for refusing to do exactly that.

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