Labour’s pro-Brexit rebels did their party and the country a favour last week

Labour’s pro-Brexit rebels did their party and the country a favour last week

The attacks by some Labour activists on the four pro-Brexit Labour MPs who defied the Labour whip and voted with the Government against an EU customs union amendment last week – and, by doing so, avoided a defeat of the Government and a possible general election – are misplaced.

In fact, their votes rescued Labour from a potential humiliation. Had the Government fallen on the eve of the resumption of negotiations with the EU and a general election been called, voters – who overwhelmingly want Parliament to get on with it – would have perceived it as an attempt to sabotage these negotiations, and obstruct and delay Brexit; and they would have punished the party responsible.

Furthermore, such a snap election would inevitably have been centred on Brexit, and Labour’s Brexit policy is abysmally incomprehensible. On the face of it, Labour’s policy as outlined by Keir Starmer is remarkably similar to that of the Tories: jobs and living standards through building a close relationship with the EU.

However, not content with a straightforward all-encompassing simple policy, Starmer, trying to be clever, snookers himself and the Labour Party by setting up six tests that a Brexit deal must satisfy before gaining Labour’s support. This makes a deal based on Labour’s declared Brexit policy fall foul of one of Starmer’s six tests: ‘close relationship with the EU’ does not meet the second of these tests, namely ‘to deliver the exact same benefits as we currently have as members of the single market and the customs union’.

In addition to this, we have Starmer’s idiosyncratic ‘no deal is not an option’, which would leave workers cold for they know if you go into negotiations begging for a deal, you’ll only be offered scraps.

The four Labour MPs – together with Kelvin Hopkins (who remains suspended from the Labour Party with no date for a hearing of the allegations against him) – have done the Labour Party and the country a favour; they rescued Labour and, more importantly, saved Brexit. They ought to be commended, not condemned.

Any sense that Labour is scheming to force a general election with the inevitable consequence of holding up the progress of Brexit and possibly preventing it altogether would be seen by workers as opportunistic and a betrayal; they would punish Labour at the ballot box. At this time, it’s best for Labour to heed the old Chinese proverb: ‘careful what you wish for’.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit dream may have vanished, but it is not necessarily the dream of all those who voted Leave: his may have evaporated; theirs is alive and well. An unadulterated free-for-all, free trade is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The clock is ticking, not so much to reach a deal with the EU but as to cross the finishing line of 29th March 2019 and leave the EU for good. Hence the hysterical efforts by Remainers, bolstered by what seems to be an endless stream of money, to stop the process before we reach that finishing line with calls for a second referendum, which have failed to get any traction among the voting public.

If my experience at a Labour Party branch meeting is anything to go by, the vast majority of Labour members have moved on; the idea of another referendum articulated by a speaker from the Labour Movement for Europe received scant support from those who voted Remain as well as those who voted Leave at the referendum. There is a clear desire to move on.

Once we cross the finishing line and regain our sovereignty, there is nothing we cannot do; we can change things, including any aspect of a deal we may have had to reach with the EU. Deals are not for ever; they are transitory by their very nature. Only then can the no-holds-barred hostilities between the two front benches resume. Only then could a general election to chart a future for Britain be a viable proposition that the electorate will accept and respect.

As for the no-deal scenario, it is interesting to note how those who have used ‘crashing out’ as a threat are now and belatedly admitting it would be far more damaging, with varying degrees, to the EU27 than it would be to the UK – and that the legendary lorry queues that we have been terrorised with will in fact be as long in Calais as they would be in Dover. In an unguarded live moment, the BBC’s Europe editor, Katya Adler, reported what she called ‘panic in Brussels’ as the prospect of a no deal became increasingly likely given the changes made to the Chequers agreement in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, all efforts must be directed towards crossing the finishing line. The Government must not be hindered in its attempt to get a negotiated trade deal with the EU following our departure from that institution.