Why Labour needs more MPs like Kate Hoey

The Vauxhall MP is voting for the Brexit she wants. If more MPs had her guts, the deadlock would end. 

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Not for the first time, a vote that would have prevented a no deal Brexit has been defeated, thanks to a smaller-than-normal Conservative rebellion and a concomitant rebellion of Labour MPs. Not for the first time, the internet is particularly angry with Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall.

But Labour would be better off if it had more MPs like Kate Hoey, because Kate Hoey has thought very deeply about her preferred resolution to the Brexit deadlock and has consistently voted in a way that maxmises her chances of getting it. She may be disappointed in the end: we might, still, end up with a very soft Brexit or no Brexit at all. But she has voted according to her own beliefs and has done everything within her power to get the Brexit end state she wants.

The reason why Kate Hoey may get the Brexit end state she wants – a no deal exit that frees the United Kingdom from the reach of the European Court of Justice – is because of MPs like Gareth Snell, who have consistently refused to vote in the way they want.

Snell is one of the most vocal of the Labour MPs who want a Brexit deal that is essentially identical to the one that Theresa May has negotiated, but have refused to vote for it. Along the way, they have also voted against most or all of the measures to prevent a no deal Brexit, whether they have been tabled by Joanna Cherry, Yvette Cooper or today Jeremy Corbyn.

This group is large enough to have more than made up for the hard core of pro-Brexit Conservatives who opposed the deal three times. They have consistently been the difference between victory and defeat, not only for Theresa May’s accord but for a second referendum or any measure to decisively soften Brexit. But they have opted not to do so.

There is a group of noble exceptions – Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Kevin Barron, John Mann, and the two former Labour MPs sitting as independents, Frank Field and Ian Austin, as well as Labour’s longterm pro-Leave backbenchers – who have opted to vote for the deal. They've done so because, whether out of a conviction that the referendum result should be honoured, a belief about how the next election can be won for Labour or a locally-focussed concern about their own seats, they believe that Brexit should happen. But Snell is not one of them and his political activities have been confined to articles about how Brexit is all very difficult and to sabotaging every measure that might resolve the deadlock, one way or another.

I single out Snell because it was Snell who today told MPs that he now realises that it was a “mistake”  to vote against Theresa May’s deal and as a result would be abstaining on Corbyn’s motion to prevent no deal. In other words, having voted consistently against leaving the burning building he has now decided to vote to lock the doors and windows.

Why has Snell, who before he was an MP described Brexit as a “massive pile of shit”, become one of the Labour MPs voting against a second referendum and against measures to prevent no deal? The answer is that he is worried about what the third of Labour voters in Stoke on Trent Central to vote to leave the EU will do to him if he doesn’t. So why didn’t he take any of the three opportunities to vote for the deal? Because he’s worried about what Labour members in his constituency party will do to him if he does.

Snell’s preferred outcome is that the whole of the Labour party should pursue a Brexit policy that would obviously be destructive to it in order to avoid any difficult conversations with either the people of Stoke on Trent Central or the activists of Stoke on Trent Central CLP. Given that the bulk of Labour MPs have understandably resisted moves that they oppose personally and would be politically costly, he has instead ended up voting against May’s deal not one, not two, but three times.

As a result, Theresa May’s political career is dead and her deal may be too. There is no guarantee that Snell will be given a fourth chance to vote for a deal, and no guarantee that the opportunity to stop a no-deal Brexit, which he and others like him sabotaged, will be repeated either.

Unlike Hoey, Snell doesn’t think that no deal is a desirable end state. He thinks it would be catastrophic to the country and would have dire consequences for many people, including his constituents. But he has decided, through inaction and failure of nerve, that it would be better if those consequences are visited upon his country than upon him.

If Snell, and MPs like him, followed Hoey’s example, and either pursued the Brexit he wants in his heart or the one he believes to be the best political choice, then the deadlock would be resolved. Instead, the United Kingdom faces the real prospect of a no deal Brexit.  

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.