Labour Policy on Brexit Beginning to Cause Internal Dramas
The Labour Party is undergoing the turmoils of internal drama as its own peers launched an attack on the leadership at the end of last week.
Yesterday party moderates launched a new campaign to hold a vote over the party’s Brexit position at its autumn conference, in an attempt to shift it towards a soft Brexit.
On Friday evening, Labour Members of the House of Lords accused the leadership of “paralysis” and “cowardice” over Brexit policy, as bitter recriminations over disappointing local election results began to emerge.
There are now growing calls for the Labour Party to deliver a post-mortem on its election results, where they struggled to deliver on a decisive victory against the seemingly hapless Tory Party. Although the party performed better in London than at any time since 1971, it was unable to take Tory strongholds in the capital, including Wandsworth, and fell short in several councils where it hoped to make gains, failing to win in Nuneaton, Derby and Basildon.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now under pressure from Remainers to develop a more distinctly pro-EU policy, as peers say they are outraged that the party appeared to be trying to block their efforts in the Lords to achieve a soft Brexit. It’s understood that 40 Labour peers are ready to back a cross-party amendment to Brexit legislation that would instruct the government to begin negotiating future UK membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), despite the party’s previously stated commitment to Brexit.
It is understood that the peers have reacted furiously after being told that the leadership is instructing peers who take the Labour whip to abstain in the vote on Tuesday, meaning it will not be passed. The peers say the majority of party members back a soft Brexit including single market membership and the measure would stand a good chance of being passed in the Commons if it were voted through the Lords.
Lord Waheed Alli has accused the leadership last night of being “paralysed by indecision”. “This is complete cowardice. There is no point in being in politics to abstain, If you stand in the middle of the road someone is going to knock you over.” he said.
He has been backed by Lord Cashman who said it was essential to look at a solution that would allow membership of the EEA, as it would not only be good for UK business but also solve the Irish border problem which is now threatening to torpedo a Brexit deal. “Why the frontbench will not accept that as a negotiating position I completely fail to understand.”
Now Labour MPs are calling for a new campaign to hold a vote over the party’s Brexit position at its autumn conference, in an attempt to shift it towards a soft Brexit.
Labour MPs said there were urgent questions the party needed to address that explained why Labour had not performed in line with expectations. Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge and a member of the parliamentary committee that relays backbench views to the leader, said the row over antisemitism had to be addressed. So too did concerns in many local parties about centralisation, and resentment over attempts to purge moderates from positions in the party.
“We are increasingly being seen as a party that is ugly and unpleasant. Voters do not like the total control mentality. They don’t like bullying and they don’t appreciate attempts to shut out alternative views and debate.”
Tony Blair’s former director of communications, Alastair Campbell, said there was a “dreadful complacency about what it takes to win” at the top of the party and called for leadership on Brexit. “Frankly, if we cannot beat this shambles of a Tory party, we don’t deserve to be in the game,” he said.
Ben Bradshaw, the former Labour cabinet minister, said: “I think we can stop Brexit and we must stop Brexit, but if we don’t do that we must make sure we stay inside the single market and customs union. Theresa May lost her majority for a hard Brexit in the election last year.”
Mr Corbyn’s position on Brexit has remained unscrutinised as the Tory Party fight amongst themselves but the reality in somewhat different. There are as many positions on Brexit in the Labour Party as there are in the Conservative Party and Mr Corbyn may now find the spotlight uncomfortable as it begins to fall on him.