Labour's New Brexit Policy Explained - And Where There Are Still Disagreements

Nothing is simple.
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Labour now has a set Brexit policy - sort of. This is what it is - for the moment at least.

The party has spent the week at its conference in Liverpool thrashing out how it will respond to events as we barrel towards the parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s Brexit.

But even though Labour has agreed on a policy, just what that policy actually means depends on which member of the party you ask.

The Six Tests And The Parliamentary Vote

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer confirmed on Tuesday the party is all but sure to vote against the prime minister’s deal unless it meets “six tests” such as “delivering the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union”.

But given the widespread opposition to her current plan among both pro-EU and pro-Brexit MPs, it’s difficult to see how May could possibly meet all six.

This leaves May staring defeat in the face unless she changes course somehow.

Assuming the six tests are not met, Labour will then demand an immediate General Election.

If May refuses to call an election - to trigger one Tory MPs would have to vote in favour - Labour has left the option of demanding another referendum.

The Referendum Options ‘On The Table’

The key part of the policy as agreed over the course of six hours on Sunday and voted for by delegates on Tuesday afternoon is this:

“If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.

However there are still disagreements of course because nothing is ever that simple and the phrase “on the table” does not mean all Labour members and MPs agree it is even desirable.

There is even disagreement about what should be on the ballot among those who have signed up to the idea of the party pushing for another public vote.

It is a fudge.

The Multiple Referendum Possibilites

Starmer received a standing ovation today for declaring “nobody is ruling out” the option of EU membership being on the ballot.

But that has not gone down well with powerful figures in the trade unions.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has said he wants to “rule out” Remain as an option.

His deputy Steve Turner said despite what Starmer claimed, any referendum must be just “a vote on the terms of our departure”.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, said there should be “no second referendum on the principle” of EU membership. “Any vote that is then campaigned for by our movement should not be a vote to revisit the question of in or out,” he said.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also suggested on Monday that he did not think any second referendum should include stopping Brexit.

Starmer’s applause line in his speech today was not included in the text first distributed by the party press office. Senior allies of Jeremy Corbyn were, HuffPost UK understands, “not amused” by the ad-lib.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow home secretary, made clear today the party’s focus should be on forcing an election to have Labour manage the UK’s exit from the EU.

Asked about the possibility of another referendum reversing the Brexit vote, she said: “I think there are deeply anti-democratic forces around the world. I am not going to be part of that.”

She said MPs promised to respect the result of the 2016 referendum and should “stick to” that.

Thornberry also highlighted another potential split in the party - whether or not to delay Brexit.

She said Labour’s manifesto should include promise that the Article 50 process would be “extended”. She argued the current leave date, of March 29, 2019, was too soon given the progress of negotiations.

Starmer said “I don’t know if Article 50 will need to be extended” but argued if it was that would be “utterly the fault” of the government.

Jeremy Corbyn said today the decision to extend Article 50 was “not in our hands” as “Article 50 can only be extended by the agreement of the entirety of the European Union.”

And Finally

To top it all off, Corbyn also refused to say whether he would vote Remain or Leave in another referendum. “It’s a hypothetical question,” he told the BBC.