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

The shadow chancellor defended plans to accept Article 50. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

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.