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John McDonnell: Labour will use "moral pressure" to get a better deal on Brexit

The shadow chancellor defended plans to accept Article 50. 

Labour will use “moral pressure” rather than blocking Article 50 to negotiate a better Brexit deal, the shadow chancellor has said.

With Parliament now more likely to have a say on triggering Article 50, there have been whisperings among the party’s rank and file that Labour should follow other smaller parties and vote against it.

But John McDonnell said Labour “will not seek to block or delay” Article 50, which starts the clock ticking on a two-year exit plan for leaving the EU. 

Instead, he said, the party would force the government to “look at the hard facts” and pressurise it to be more transparent on negotiations.

Pushed on what sort of leverage Labour had, if it didn’t threaten to block Article 50, McDonnell replied:  “It is the moral pressure we will be able to exert right across the country.

“I don’t think it will come down to parliamentary manoeuvres, I think it will be moral pressure.”

The SNP plan to vote against Article 50, and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to do so unless a second referendum is held. However, Labour MPs represent some of the constituencies that voted most heavily for Leave. 

The general public was waking up to the fact the government was not going to deliver on promises made during the EU referendum campaign, McDonnell said. 

He said: “I don’t think any government will survive in the long term unless they come to terms with these issues.”

The “wider debate within our society” can play a part both in the run up to triggering Article 50, and the final Brexit deal, he suggested.

In a speech ahead of the Autumn Statement, McDonnell echoed his leader’s comments that Brexit, followed the election of Donald Trump, was a “wake up call” for politicians. 

While launching a strong defence of the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, who he said had to pick up the peices after Brexit, he nevertheless questioned the benefits of loose monetary policy.

"The Bank's actions were not cost free," he said. "I share those concerns about the consequences for inequality that follow from the version of quantitative easing that has been applied."

Taking questions after a speech ahead of the Autumn Statement, McDonnell repeatedly stressed his willingness to consider a bipartisan approach when dealing with the aftershocks of Brexit.

But he added that for a bipartisan approach to work, Labour needed to know where other parties stood on the main issues.

He claimed the Tory Cabinet was isolating Philip Hammond, the Chancellor. In reference to the secret deal struck with a major car manufacturer, he declared: “The CEO of Nissan probably knows more about the Brexit negotiations than the Chancellor does himself.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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