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5 February 2019

Labour MPs don’t want money to back a Brexit deal. They want a customs union

Although there has been some movement towards Theresa May, most Labour MPs are holding out for policy concessions, not financial sweeteners.

By Eleni Courea

There are now seven days left until the final reckoning for Theresa May’s Brexit deal. She can be fairly certain she will lose a chunk of votes from the Tory right – so can she win over enough Labour MPs to bring it over the line?

There have been some signs of light for the Prime Minister. Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan, wrote in the Financial Times that passing the agreement “is the only way through this mess”. And in the Sun, Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley pledged to back the deal as long as May tacks on a commitment to retain workers’ rights and environmental protections.

But beyond this, most Northern MPs in Leave-voting constituencies are sticking to their guns. One said he would “stay in his lane” unless there was a shift on the customs union. “I’ve not been approached or offered any financial settlements. But if I were, I would say look, the DUP got £100m, so I want £100m for my part of the country too, and £100m for my next door neighbour.”

Another said she was undecided but could be swayed by a shift on the customs union and workers’ rights. “I don’t think the Prime Minister is thinking about this; she’s still pandering to right of her party rather than reaching across to the opposition benches, which is frankly very silly of her.”

A third agreed that a customs union would be a game-changer. “If cash is available we should get it anyway after such massive cuts to northern constituencies since 2010, so my vote is not for sale on that basis.”

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All this points to how ineffective May’s cash offer has been. Though Flint is accused of having been bought out, she indicated she would vote for some form of May’s proposals as early as October. Nandy points out that the economic stability brought to her area by a deal is far more important than a bit of money for a new sports centre. There are 72 Labour backbenchers like Flint and Nandy, who represent areas that voted over 55 per cent Leave. What will win their votes to May’s side is change in policy, not a cash promise.

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