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2 November 2019updated 04 Sep 2021 2:38pm

Labour’s Brexit policy is clear. The shadow cabinet must get behind it

The party cannot maintain credibility if the very people who would be responsible for negotiating a deal with the EU announce now that they will campaign for its rejection.

By Ashish Thakur

Labour’s policy on Brexit is not only clear – it could and should be a vote-winner. 

Firstly, Labour stands for honouring the 2016 referendum result to leave the EU, as we did in the 2017 election. 

It will negotiate a deal which secures our political departure from the EU, while seeking to retain economic and social benefits that protect jobs and maintains standards, based on principles the Party has consistently advocated, including customs arrangements and frictionless trade with the single market. 

There is little doubt that such a deal could be swiftly agreed with Brussels. 

Second, Labour will put that deal to the people in a confirmatory vote, with “remain” as an option. This would happen within six months of an election. Labour is now the only Party going into this election making such a democratic offer. 

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Third, the Party will determine its own position in such a referendum at a special conference to be held once the final terms of a Labour Brexit deal with the EU are known. 

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That is the policy agreed after passionate debate at the Party conference this year. Its strengths are obvious. It offers both “leavers” and “remainers” what they want. It places Labour as the only party trying to speak to the whole country on this matter, looking beyond the binary division which has so poisoned political life over the last few years. 

And it offers a democratic end to the national debate, putting the people themselves in the driving seat.

Boris Johnson’s Tories have purged themselves of “remainers” and offer nothing to the half of the country wanting to stay in the EU. 

The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have written off the half of the country who wish to leave, and show their contempt for democracy by proposing to simply cancel the referendum result on the grounds they didn’t like the outcome. 

So Labour is the best-placed party to handle this issue in a fashion which then allows it to move on and talk about other issues. 

That is what everyone in our Party says they want – an election focussed on inequality, on protecting the NHS, on tackling poverty, ending the housing crisis, tackling climate change, and investing in our future. 

Theresa May gambled on a “Brexit election” two years ago, and failed. The country moved on to other issues, helped by Labour’s radical manifesto offering real change. We have to ensure the same shift this time around. I am sure we will have another powerful manifesto to help. 

And the people will find a way to impose their own priorities on the politicians. But one other thing is needed – unity behind Labour’s policy as outlined above. We will not be able to move on if members of the shadow cabinet seek to pre-empt the party’s democratic process by announcing now how they will campaign in a second referendum. 

Of course, everyone has their own views by now, and have expressed them long and loud. But Labour’s policy is scarcely going to maintain credibility if the very shadow cabinet members who would, in government, be responsible for negotiating a departure deal with the EU announce now that they will campaign for its public rejection. 

How is the EU supposed to take such an approach seriously? More importantly, how will British voters take it seriously? 

Labour’s Brexit No trade union negotiator would ever go into talks with employers having stated in advance that they would urge their members to reject whatever agreement they reached. This is the politics of posturing, and not a serious approach to a pressing problem. 

That is why Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely right to keep his powder dry on the question. It would behove all our shadow cabinet, particularly those who have emphasised throughout this controversy the importance of listening to the Party membership, to do likewise and get behind the position the membership endorsed in Brighton just a few weeks ago. 

Support for collective decisions once they are democratically determined is a sound trade union principle which we commend to all politicians. In the circumstances of this election, it is a key part of the path to a Labour victory, based on bringing the country together behind a programme of radical change for social justice.

Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite; Tim Roache is general secretary of the GMB; Dave Ward is general secretary of the Communication Workers Union; and Mick Whelan is general secretary of Aslef