May’s departure changes the game for stopping Brexit
Boris Johnson will likely give us the election we’ve been calling for. Get ready.
I don’t think many activists on the left, let alone voters, have fully understood the significance of May agreeing to step down after the upcoming final vote on her Brexit deal.
Having lost the fight for a second referendum “in principle”, those who’ve opposed Brexit have fallen back on the idea of a “confirmatory referendum” on any deal done (the Kyle-Wilson amendment).
But no further deal is likely in this parliament. Let’s spell out the likely timetable.
6 June — May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill gets defeated, yet again. Why? Because even if 25+ Labour MPs back it against the party whip, the ERG and DUP will oppose it. They know the only chance they have of stopping the rise of the Brexit Party is to go for a harder deal under a different leader.
31 July — May agrees to go before the summer recess. A swift leadership election installs either Boris Johnson or another hard Brexiteer as leader (Mordaunt on 20/1 looks a good bet), promising to renegotiate the deal and seek a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, backed up by the threat of No Deal on 31 October.
Summer — Johnson spends summer cobbling together a hard Brexit proposal.
September — Labour conference reaffirms commitment to Second Referendum and the principle of a Remain/Reform approach to the EU. The vast majority of members, activists and MPs support Remain/Reform — so this will happen, no matter how many resignation threats from northern English frontbenchers.
October — New Tory leader gets Conference backing for No Deal ultimatum. Calls snap election on the issue of my deal or No Deal for 24 October.
Now let’s consider Labour’s official position, as in its European election manifesto. Here it is:
“Labour will continue to oppose the Government’s bad deal or a disastrous no deal. And if we can’t get agreement along the lines of our alternative plan, or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote”.
Today Jeremy Corbyn added to that: he said on the Andrew Marr Show that his preference was for Labour to get a good deal through parliament and then put it to a public vote.
That’s welcome — but either way the “Government’s bad deal” will be dead as soon as a new Tory leader takes over. All possibility of agreement with the Tories over an alternative plan plus a referendum fell apart on Friday 17 May.
There is no way Johnson’s FTA would get through this parliament, so he is obliged to seek a snap election.
It is now far more likely that the fate of Brexit will be decided at a snap election. Since it is still technically possible that May would get her deal through the commons before she resigns, Labour’s position of insisting on putting it to a second referendum is correct. It is especially important to push this in the last few days before the EU election poll: Vote Labour for a guaranteed #FinalSay referendum on any deal.
But for for those who want to stop Brexit after that, everything depends on committing Labour to a clear position of opposing Johnson’s deal and committing to Remain. That is what we need to do via conference resolutions and delegation mandates between now and October.
I still think a clear #FinalSay message from Labour in the last few days of the European Parliament elections could mobilise enough of Labour’s voting base to score well — this is a battle of turnout above all else and Labour’s core voters on the doorstep understand the appeal to unite the country around a message of social justice. But…
The political space for a soft-Brexit deal is gone. The Brexiteers want hard Brexit and the majority of the electorate wants Remain. The task of the summer is to align Labour policy with the wishes of the progressive majority.