By defying 2017 manifesto commitments, Brexit-blocking Labour MPs are risking the party’s credibility

By defying 2017 manifesto commitments, Brexit-blocking Labour MPs are risking the party’s credibility

Apart from showing increased support for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement which made it more popular than any other option that Parliament had so far voted on, the vote last Friday changed very little: it did not resolve the Brexit dilemma of a majority Remain Parliament reluctant to legislate to leave the EU as instructed by the electorate; it just kicked the can down the road. So far, Parliament has avoided the stark choice that it ultimately has to face: respect the referendum result and enact Brexit or revoke Article 50 in direct defiance of the result of the EU referendum.

Everyone who campaigned for Leave, regardless of their political background, expected a clean unadulterated Brexit once the people voted to Leave. However, the make-up of the Cabinet, the Government and Parliament does not make that possible. The Withdrawal Agreement remains the only practical way of leaving the EU. This is beginning to gain support from many MPs who are worried that any other course of action would risk Brexit itself. Such support came too late to have a decisive impact on the vote on 29th March and in most cases was too apologetic to provide the necessary backbone to push the deal through.

But we can now expect a final showdown as the deal is bound to come back in one form or another for a vote before 10th April when the Prime Minister is due to go to the special meeting of the European Council called by Donald Tusk to discuss Brexit, just a couple of days before the new departure date of 12th April.

And we must remember that while Brexit is a one-off event, post-Brexit is a process; it is the start. Theresa May’s deal may not be the ideal start, but it is a start that allows us to move on in a direction of our choosing.

Labour’s excitement at the sight of a Tory Government in meltdown is understandable. The prospects of a general election have suddenly been revived. Labour cannot be blamed for pushing for a general election, after all, it is what an Opposition is there for. But a general election before we leave the EU is the last thing it needs; Labour, having voted against the only deal on offer, would be labelled as the party that blocked Brexit and rightly so. No matter how popular its domestic policies are, that label would stick; Labour’s natural supporters would desert the party in droves.

Labour must do better if it is to avoid being branded anti-Brexit and untrustworthy. In its 2017 manifesto, Labour promised “to respect the result of the referendum” and stated that “the freedom of movement would end once we leave the EU”. What would puzzle Labour supporters is how the party can square its infatuation with ‘a customs union’ with its promises to revive British industry through state aid, ending freedom of movement, public ownership and public control of the railways, water and other major utilities, and negotiating our own bespoke trade deals – not to mention the promise to follow procurement policy that will benefit British firms.

It’s one thing to throw out the deal in the full knowledge that you’ll have another chance to vote on it; it’s quite another to do so in the knowledge that it will lead to a prolonged delay, participation in an election to an institution we voted to have nothing to do with and a real danger of no Brexit.

Nothing less than Labour’s credibility – and specially that of Jeremy Corbyn – is on the line. The Labour leadership must ensure, in whatever way, that Brexit is not halted either through a long delay or, for that matter, an outright revocation of Article 50.