Despite Theresa May’s on-again, off-again, on-again relationship with getting a Brexit deal this past week, it was Labour’s Europe policy placed under the spotlight on this Sunday’s political shows.
Just as the Cabinet will soon have to actually decide what Brexit means, Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat ambiguous approach is getting harder to maintain.
On the BBC’s Anderw Marr programme this morning, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott was pressed on whether the party was moving towards backing a second referendum - as she herself had recently told her constituents she did. “The Labour Party does not support a second referendum and we’ve never supported it and we don’t support it now,” she said.
However shortly afterwards, Deputy Leader Tom Watson said Labour could not rule it out even it was not “likely”. He told BBC Radio 5′s Pienaar’s Politics: “When you are in complex negotiations on behalf the nation you shouldn’t rule anything out”.
Meanwhile, over on Sky News’ Sunday with Paterson, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner, refused to give a yes or no answer to whether the party could eventually end up supporting another vote. “The Labour Party has not said we will have second referendum. We will honor the referendum result,” he said.
And in a further sign of the softening of Labour’s Brexit position, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that the party could see a role for the European Court of Justice after the Brexit transition period. “We’re open minded about that, because any trade deal, any deal needs a court or some other institution to oversee and protect that deal. That just seems to be common sense,” he said.
Of course just because Labour’s position is being scrutnised, does not mean all is well on the Tory benches. Speaking to the Sunday Politics, ultra-Remainer Ken Clarke branded suggestions that Tory MP rebels who had backed a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal should be deselected as “idiotic”.
He was speaking minutes after his fellow Tory backbencher, Nadine Dorries, had suggested that very thing. She told the programme the rebels had broken their manifesto pledge to support Brexit. “To go back on those promises that they were elected to honour is something for their associations to discuss and something for them to consider,” she said.
Clarke dismissed out of hand Dorries suggestion his vote had helped Labour. “It is totally absurd to say this is helping Jeremy Corbyn, it’s weakening Theresa May and all the rest of it. Here we are, three days after the vote took place, Theresa May is no weaker than she was after that. Jeremy Corbyn is not marching towards Downing Street,” he said.
It was not all about Brexit this morning however. Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke joined Marr and conceded there were “cases where we got it wrong” on benefit payments.
He was challenged about the impact of benefit sanctions, which have been blamed for forcing some of the poorest in society into debt and leaving them at risk of homelessness. “We have a welfare system that is based on conditionality, and rightly so. We pay money to people but there are certain conditions that are in place,” he said. “That’s not to say that there aren’t hard cases, cases where we get it wrong, we want to work very hard to eliminate that.”
Back on Pienaar’s Politics, Labour MP Mike Amesbury was asked whether he could be friends with a Tory. “No. Not as a friend. Not as a drinking buddy or anything like that,” he said. “But of course pragmatically you work with people across parties.”