Why Barry Gardiner was right to call Labour’s six tests for a Brexit deal “bollocks”

It’s hard to see how the party’s ambiguity on Brexit can be maintained.

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Loose lips sink ships? Another day, another clarification from Barry Gardiner about his remarks on Brexit and Labour's Brexit policy after another recording from the same meeting emerged in which he called the party's six tests for the Brexit deal “bollocks”*. (Perhaps he meant “the dog’s bollocks”**)

Those six tests, in case you've forgotten:

1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?

2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?

3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?

4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?

5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?

6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Labour’s difficulty is that Gardiner is right: the six tests are bollocks. They were clever bollocks when the test of Labour's Brexit policy was to keep the party vaguely united on Brexit. The joy of the six tests is that everyone in the Labour party, from Heidi Alexander to Kate Hoey, can broadly agree on the words even while disagreeing over their actual meaning.

When they were devised, the Conservatives had a parliamentary majority and Theresa May was hegemonic, so Labour’s actual position on the key Brexit votes didn't matter at all.

But now, thanks to Labour’s forward advance at the election, the six tests have become a source of pain to the party: and that so-called meaningful vote on the Article 50 agreement is an even bigger one.

There are two problems: the first is that, as it stands, the government will be able to present a decision between its deal and the cliff edge, rather than its deal or membership or even the EEA.

The second problem, as Emily Thornberry pointed out, is that the government isn't going to have agreed everything by the time of that vote. It will have agreed a broad outline which will almost certainly comfortably pass the six tests. Whatever happens, it looks like the worst of all worlds for Labour; it's hard to see how Labour's electorally beneficial ambiguity on Brexit can be maintained, and difficult too, to to see how they can meaningfully shape the trajectory of Brexit.

The unwritten story here is that of Labour's three Brexit-facing Shadow Cabinet members, the only one not to have been caught out deriding the six tests is their author Keir Starmer. And the neglected problem is that Gardiner and Thornberry are right.

*Note to Morning Call readers from further afield. This means “nonsense”.

**Note to Morning Call readers from further afield. This means “good”.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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