A quick scan through the responses, to Chuka Umunna’s attempted amendment to the Queen’s Speech, on ‘LabourList‘ – a blog for Labour members – gives a glimpse at the deep divisions that exist within the second largest political party over Brexit. Some call Umunna ‘completely ignorant’ and question, ‘What planet has [he] gone off to now?’ Others are much more supportive of Umunna, as they explain, ‘Jeremy Corbyn and John Mcdonnell do not get the fact that leaving the EU is a disaster for the economy and Labour’s current policies. Staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union offers us the best chance for delivering our policies in the long run.’ This is a substantial split in the Labour Party in what will probably play the most prominent role in shaping the UK’s future in the next decade and beyond.
Of course, similar differences in opinion over Europe exist – and have always existed – in the Conservative Party. Last week we saw Anna Soubry (an MP that I have great respect for) attack her Party’s leadership: ‘My own front bench has to wake up and understand that things have now changed. The rhetoric has to be dropped. This slogan – “no deal is better than a bad deal” – is a nonsense, it’s always been a nonsense.’ John Major called the Eurosceptics in his Party the ‘bastards’, but now they’re running the show and the pro-European Tories have found themselves shouting from the back benches.
The Liberal Democrats also have divisions on the subject. Norman Lamb, who represents a constituency that voted heavily in favour of Brexit, decided to abstain on Article 50 rather than follow the other MPs in his party and vote against its triggering. As well as this, 32% of those that voted for the party in 2015 also voted to leave the EU. Whilst this is a minority, it is relatively substantial. I am not, therefore, trying to deflect from the challenges that other political parties face, but just want to explore in more detail the problems that Labour has.
Umunna’s amendment, which Corbyn abstained on, not only exposed the split amongst Labour members, but also showed the different Brexit opinions in the PLP. Many Labour MPs, such as Tulip Siddiq, Heidi Alexander, Stella Creasy and David Lammy, supported Umunna in trying to give protection to EU nationals living in Britain, to keep the option of a soft Brexit open and to guarantee a Parliamentary vote on the final Brexit deal. On the other hand, Kate Hoey – possibly the most strongly in favour of leaving the EU out of all Labour MPs – remarked in January, ‘Every single leading Remain campaigner and every single Leave campaigner all said if you vote to leave you’ll be voting to leave the Single Market, because the reality is you cannot stay in the Single Market if you want to take back control of immigration, if you want to take back control of trade. If you’re going to stay in the Single Market, you’re staying in the European Union.’
Coming into the election Labour found itself in the difficult position whereby the majority of its voters supported Remain, but most of its constituencies voted to leave on June 23rd last year. Corbyn himself – previously a proud opponent of the European project and just 1 of 20 Labour MPs who defied the party whip to vote for an EU referendum in October 2011 – succumbed to the pressure of his parliamentary party to support staying in the EU (although only at a strength of about 7.5/10). Through the vagueness of their Brexit message and diverting attention onto other issues, Labour managed to pick up votes from people with a wide range of different opinions. This broad coalition of support that Corbyn has achieved may, however, become more and more unstable as Labour will have to have a whip on certain parts of the negotiation. Whether some of those who would have preferred to remain in the EU will desert Labour if they continue to want to bring the country out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, is yet to be seen.
Individual Labour MPs also seem to be rather conflicted on the issue of Brexit. Clive Lewis – MP for Norwich South – has been particularly supportive of the people having the final say on the Brexit deal, stating in a hustings, ‘If you actually want to give people a real say, there should be a referendum on the deal that comes back.’ He has also co-written an article on the subject. However, when it came to voting on having such a referendum on the deal he failed to join 19 other Labour MPs – including Owen Smith, Heidi Alexander and David Lammy – in supporting it in February this year, despite having been in votes just a matter of minutes before and after. So whether Lewis truly supports the idea is something that many are still unsure about.
Apologies for not posting in about a week, I think I was just being a little lazy and not getting round to it – especially considering that I planned the article a few days ago. My next post will probably be one about my thoughts on a book, unless something else happens before I have finished it.
I hope all of you have a good summer, especially those of you that are on school holidays now or are about to be!