Joe Blackburn @JoeBlackburn42
Naked Politics Blogger
[Disclaimer, the writer of this article is a member of the Labour Party, and General Secretary of Lancaster University Labour Club]
As of late, Brexit has eaten up the entirety of the political landscape, with political parties being almost defined by their stances on leaving the European Union. The Conservatives are the party of pushing Brexit through, and aiming for a harder Brexit than the others, the Liberal Democrats aim to stop Brexit through a People’s Vote, and the Greens think the whole idea was silly from the start.
Labour, however, have had rather more of a problem defining themselves in this regard.
In the lead up to 2017 General Election, Labour set out six points that all needed to be fulfilled in order for the Party to get behind any Withdrawal Agreement that came out of May’s negotiations with the EU, which were:
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
Having this policy has meant that Labour were effectively advocating for a soft Brexit (before deciding to support a People’s Vote, the side on which they’re taking is as of yet unknown). This means that the UK would stay in the European Economic Area, or something similar, without openly saying it, and the reason for this is quite interesting.
As a policy that was developed in the lead up to a General Election, it was clearly designed to be something that would either gain votes, or simply not lose them. The vast majority of their inner-city seats voted to Remain in the European Union, however the most in-reach marginals that would put the party in government voted to Leave the EU, which put them in an odd position, where supporting Leave could lose seats, and supporting Remain could block any gains. This is what led to an odd halfway house, in which Labour policy is to support Brexit, but only in the case of one certain deal, and otherwise they would seek either a General Election or People’s Vote (both of which Labour have now officially supported).
In 2017, this policy arguably worked. The Party gained plenty of seats, and gained a significant amount of power in the Commons, enough to be a major part in defeating the initial Withdrawal Agreement at the start of the year. However, now Labour has managed to drive itself into a corner, where these points have to be stuck to, or they would be seen as betraying the electorate that put them there and destroy the party in the long run. Ultimately, after a long period of indecision, Labour have finally settled on the policy of a divisive People’s Vote, having exhausted all other options.
Theresa May is in an equally tricky position. Having drawn her red lines at the start of the negotiations, her cooperation is only feasible to a certain extent. As Labour seek a strong Customs Union with Europe, the Prime Minister made it clear that she was going to take the country out of the Single Market, and furthermore a significant amount of her own Party, except the European Research Group, wouldn’t support her if she pursued this avenue. These clear oppositions exist throughout the policies of both sides, with Labour thoroughly advocating for immigration, whilst Theresa May in her time as both Prime Minister and Home Secretary wanted to slash migration figures below 100,000.
Ultimately, the Conservatives and Labour are diametrically opposed on so many points, and have been for such a long time, that finding any point for agreement is almost impossible, especially on the contentious issue of Europe. Although this article is directed at how Labour formed their policies on Brexit, it seems like the real “dream world” in politics at the moment is the one in which the two main parties can properly cooperate. The politics of the United Kingdom has been polarised more and more since the economic crisis of 2008, and with the current toxic discourse and so few points of agreement, any cooperation is incredibly unlikely until the two sides are able to fix their fundamental differences.
With May not holding a Parliamentary majority and dealing with a split Party, and with no clear way to reach out to the opposition, Parliament is likely to be paralysed for the foreseeable future. A worrying sign for those seeking a Brexit Deal. Just a further sign of this paralysis is May potentially supporting a Brexit delay, but with the red lines still in place and no clear route to the government supporting a People’s Vote. Progress is likely to be stagnant on Brexit for a long while yet.