A Brexit Deal
Labour will not win votes as late converts to Brexit – we should not support a Johnson deal
Keir Starmer said during the Labour leadership contest that the debate between “Remain and Leave” was over. Despite having led the Remain Labour campaign for two years, I agreed with him.
Our crushing defeat in the 2019 General Election ensured that Brexit became a sad reality in January. “Remain Vs Leave” is a settled debate and Labour will clearly not be advocating re-joining the EU in our next manifesto.
None of this means the Conservative Party should go unchallenged in their negotiating strategy. The issue for the Labour Party today is whether we should support any deal that Boris Johnson can muster with the EU, regardless of the cost to the country.
Despite the sound, fury and Frosty twitter outbursts that have defined the negotiations, we know what the fundamentals of a Johnson deal will be. The UK will leave the single market, customs union and all 41 of the trade agreements the EU holds with other countries. The Department for Trade has only managed to roll-over half of these deals with non-EU members, so we will simultaneously be raising barriers to trade with our largest trading partner and more than a dozen other nations across the world.
In no other circumstances would a Labour leader countenance voting for a Conservative deal of this kind. It is indisputable that it will cost jobs and result in lasting harm to the UK economy, especially in the manufacturing sector. The OBR projects UK GDP will be 4% smaller in the long-term with a weak Free Trade Agreement with the EU, even greater than the 3% of “lasting damage” expected from the pandemic.
It appears the Labour leadership is considering voting for the deal in an attempt to close off Brexit as a political issue. Ironically, this is what Rishi Sunak would like to do as well – having failed to mention Brexit once in his spending review last week.
Keir Starmer and the Shadow Cabinet all know that a Johnson deal would weaken the UK as a country at home and abroad. And it would be a sign of weakness in the Labour Party to feel pressured into voting for it.
I recognise we have a huge task in winning back the trust of lost voters across the country and especially so in the ‘Red Wall’, but endorsing a deal at any cost is not the way to do it. Labour is not going to win any votes as late converts to Brexit, but we risk losing more for appearing to support a weak deal out of political expediency.
Keir’s leadership since April has been refreshing. He has been forensic in challenging the government on their mismanagement of this pandemic and resolute in his commitment to drive antisemitism out of the party. I hope he can now show the same resolve in respect to any deal that Boris Johnson puts before the House of Commons.
Instead of voting for a deal we know will weaken the UK and hurt most those who have least, let’s call it out for the impact it will have on our communities. Let’s not fall into the trap of accepting that it was this deal or ‘no deal’, but be clear that a Labour government would have negotiated a stronger and closer relationship with the EU had we been in government.
Labour can make this argument out of conviction and retain the option of abstaining on the final vote in the Commons, should that be the only route to avoid no deal in December.
At best Boris Johnson will deliver a weak and threadbare deal in the next few weeks. Johnson, Sunak and the rest of the government will own it. Instead of offering our support, the Labour Party should expose it for the damage it will do.
Andrew Lewin, Founder of Remain Labour