Monday 21 May 2018 - People's Vote

Monday 21 May 2018

Morning briefing: Labour's way out - Brexiter impotence - worldwide workforce

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership came under renewed pressure over the weekend to flesh out their Brexit policy. Divisions over Labour’s position on single market membership and the increasingly subtle differences with the Tories’ own policies are becoming harder to ignore. But there is a way for Corbyn to untangle himself and keep his principles intact: back a People’s Vote.

On Sunday, shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner floundered in a blistering interview with the BBC’s Emma Barnett, standing in for Andrew Marr, when asked about alleged private comments that people were “playing up” the Irish border problem for political reasons.

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Over on ITV, Unite leader Len McCluskey also struggled to coherently explain Labour’s position on the single market when faced with tough questioning from fellow guest and former Labour minister Peter Mandelson.

This Brexit muddle threatens to hit Labour at the ballot box. Theresa May’s beleaguered Tories now have a four-point lead in the opinion polls, according to an Opinium survey for the Observer. One area where May is getting the upper hand is her success in keeping the support of Leave voters, compared to Labour’s failure to impress Remainers.

An early test will come at the Lewisham East by-election on June 14. Pro-Remain candidate Janet Daby has beaten off hard-left Labour candidates. But even with her strong pro-European credentials, it will be interesting to see how many votes in the south London constituency go to explicitly anti-Brexit parties like the Lib Dems or Greens.

Whether Corbyn’s Brexit ambiguity is down to fears of losing Leave-voting supporters in the Labour heartlands, or based on a personal ambivalence for the EU, there’s a neat way out of the current mess. Corbyn should throw his weight behind a People’s Vote on May’s Brexit deal.

That way Labour can stick to their demand that the final deal has the “exact same benefits” as single market membership. And when it doesn’t, it can urge that the people be asked if that’s really good enough - and if not, whether they want to stay in the EU.


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Video of the day

Watch former Labour minister and EU commissioner Peter Mandelson clash with Len McCluskey, leader of Unite the Union, over Labour's Brexit policy on ITV's Peston.

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Brexiters’ bark worse than bite

Tory Brexiters are also attempting to heap pressure on Theresa May - though they seem increasingly powerless to overthrow their leader.

Boris Johnson has dispatched another “thinly veiled” warning, this time from Peru, that the UK cannot stay in a customs union with the EU and must be able to do “unhindered” trade deals after Brexit. The problem with thinly veiled threats is that the thinner the veil gets, the sillier you look for not acting on them - and Johnson shows no sign of doing that.

Other anonymous Brexiters are talking about a confidence vote and preparing campaign literature for another snap general election later in the year. But the 60 or so hardline Brexiters don’t have the numbers among Tory MPs to oust May as Conservative leader. And to win a confidence vote in Parliament they would have to throw their lot in with Corbyn’s Labour. Notably, no one has put their names to these hollow-sounding threats.

As Hugo Dixon wrote last week for InFacts, on Brexit both May and her hard-Brexit opponents are snookered.


Quote of the day

“I am even preparing my first leaflet drop for the summer.”

An anonymous Tory Brexiter deploying their latest scare tactic: the threat of another snap election this year.


Where will our workers come from?

Two leading business lobby groups have urged the government to reform immigration rules or lose the UK’s competitive edge after Brexit, reports the Times. The City UK, which lobbies for financial services firms, and EEF, which represents manufacturers, both fear a “recruitment crunch” on the horizon.

So how will Brexit Britain fill its vacancies in our factories, banks and elsewhere if not from Europe? Well Japan has called for visa exemptions for its workers after Brexit, while Boris Johnson has floated freer movement for Peruvians in any future trade deals with the UK. If the UK goes down this worldwide route, the question must be: is that what Leavers voted for?


Brexit Troubles

Northern Ireland’s support for staying in the EU has skyrocketed from 56% in 2016 to 69% now as the problems of Brexit become clear, according to new research by UK in a Changing Europe.

This news is accompanied by other startling stats. For example, one in five Catholics find the possible use of cameras at the North-South border “almost impossible to accept” and 9% would support cameras being vandalized. There is also a strong expectation that protests against border checks could turn violent. These stats contradict Brexiter arguments that Brexit’s impact on the peace process is not an issue.


Tweet of the day

Times deputy political editor Sam Coates flags up another example of Tory ministers beginning to speak out against the lunacy of May's hard Brexit.

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More Brexit news…

UK looks to Australia for help in launching rival to Galileo system (FT)

To recap: we already have some great satellite-building partners (who we’re already halfway through a major project with) just across the Channel in Europe.

Brexit blamed for dramatic fall in UK business registrations (Guardian)

Big banks boost Brexit budgets (FT)

Brexit could wreck green agenda, says UN (Guardian)


Top Brexit comment

Guardian: The Guardian view on Brexit and the royal wedding: which is the real Britain? (editorial)

Alex Massie: Brexiteers are treating Ireland with contempt (Times)


Looking forward…

Today, Friday 18 May

- Policy Exchange summit on Brexit impact (speakers inc. Michael Gove, Ruth Davidson, Arlene Foster)
- Theresa May to give speech on science
PM Lords consider Commons' amendments to Data Protection Bill

Tomorrow, Saturday 19 May

- Summons date for Vote Leave chief Dominic Cummings to attend DCMS committee "fake news" inquiry
- Jonathan Powell and John Bruton at UK in Changing EU conference on Ireland and Brexit
08:00 Santander chair gives speech on the City and Brexit at Chatham House
09:30 ONS: Construction output figures published
09:30 ONS: Public Sector finances published
10:00 Mark Carney gives evidence to Treasury committee
10:30 Lords EU Justice sub-committee takes expert evidence on civil justice cooperation post Brexit
11:30 Treasury question in Commons
14:30 Commons Home Affair committee takes expert evidence on post-Brexit immigration