Labour: Unravelling Brexit
Forty five years ago the then leader of the Labour Party Hugh Gaitskill told the Labour conference that joining the European bloc would be “the end of Britain as an independent European country” ending of a “thousand year history”. Sitting behind him a young Shirley Williams cringed, later saying it was that moment that begun the slippery slope towards the creation of the SDP twenty years later.
This week Maitland Political gathered a much more united group of Labour MPs to discuss how Brexit can be “progressive” and how Britain can continue to be at the heart of European politics.
There are some Labour MPs, including our panellist Stephen Kinnock MP, who despite passionately supporting Remain, now believe Labour must accept the result whilst trying to build a “progressive Brexit”. This group also tends to agree that we need “some control on immigration” and that the UK should leave the customs union so that the Government can sign trade deals with other countries.
The other side, including two of our guest MPs Heidi Alexander and Mary Creagh, take a more traditional approach to opposition, believing that Labour should fight the Government on the vote to trigger Article 50 until the end and in-so-doing pin the anticipated perils of leaving the EU on the Tories. This group, in short, will not take Brexit for an answer.
Our keynote speaker, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, has a difficult balancing act to play between these groups. The dynamics between the camps, however, are one of unity when it comes to recognition of Keir Starmers work holding the executive to account. The trouble for him is he undertakes this task with a divided shadow cabinet leading an opposition party trailing 19 points in the polls – a reality he himself said on Wednesday made “everything difficult”.
Keir Starmer warned against an early general election for fear that the balance of power in the House of Commons would shift further towards the school of thought advocating a deal-free “crash out” Brexit with Britain turning its back on its European allies…proponents include the likes of Bill Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg to name but a few. And on the subject of a second referendum on the Brexit deal in two years’ time, Starmer pointed out this would be impossible as Britain would by that time be out of the club.
Keir Starmer is looking to challenge the Government by bringing Europhile Tories on board a transitional deal whilst he also works to bridge the gulf between the Corbyn supporters and centrists in the party. Though Starmer has very different priorities, and not to mention outlook, he is likely to be busy in equal measure to his opposite number David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, who is said to have the busiest job in politics.