Saturday

21st Apr 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

UK court ruling does little to help Brexit opponents

  • Corbyn cannot afford to alienate Labour voters who want to leave the EU (Photo: Garry Knight)

For Remain supporters clutching at straws, the ermine-clad judges of the UK’s Supreme Court brought some cheer on Tuesday (24 January).

The judgement - that Theresa May’s government cannot start divorce proceedings with the EU without the support of MPs - was not much of a triumph, however.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Nor was it a surprise. The government had made clear that it would introduce Brexit legislation if the Supreme Court ruled against it. A short bill will now be tabled this week and rushed through parliament in time for May to activate article 50 before her self-imposed March deadline.

The Liberal Democrats, the 56 Scottish National Party MPs and a couple of Tory europhiles will vote against the bill but it will almost certainly pass overwhelmingly. In the words of Brexit minister David Davis on Tuesday, “the point of no return was passed on June 23rd”.

Instead of being a major headache for May, the Article 50 bill, in fact, poses yet another problem to the centre-left opposition Labour party, which is stuck in a political no man’s land.

If May’s Conservative party is still divided on what Brexit should look like, Labour is in an impossible position.

Over 50 MPs have indicated that they will not support an Article 50 bill, even if the party leadership, whose position is currently that the referendum result must be respected, imposes a three-line whip.

At the root of Labour’s difficulty is that almost all the party’s elected officials and most of its supporters voted to remain in the EU; yet most of its constituencies, particularly in the north and midlands of England, voted to leave.

Labour cannot afford to turn its back on these voters, who are being targeted by the anti-immigrant Ukip party, by campaigning to overturn the result of last June.

So, since the June referendum, it has fudged, obfuscated and confused them instead.

The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose half-hearted campaigning last spring is still regarded as an act of wilful sabotage by Labour Remainers, has made contradictory statements on the value of single market access, and flip-flopped on whether Labour still supports freedom of movement.

Everyone disappointed

As a result, Corbyn is disappointing both Leave and Remain voters. Current opinion polls put Labour on around 25 percent - 15 points behind the Conservatives. In the now unlikely event that May decides to call a snap election, Labour would be routed.

A decade ago, eurosceptics in Britain and elsewhere were easy to pigeon-hole as extremists on the political fringe. Demands for strict limits on migration flows were only made by far-right parties.

That has changed, perhaps irreversibly.

Dominic Cummings, the director of the Leave campaign, says that it is the London elite, whose general outlook of supporting open borders and markets without providing communities adversely affected by migration flows and globalisation with extra support, that is extreme.

Broadly speaking, these “elite” views have been held by Labour in government and opposition for most of the past 20 years. Disowning them would be painful.

Labour will hold a day-long Brexit conference in late-February, presumably in a bid to start cutting through the fog of confusion about its position. It is long overdue, but only the first step in a journey.

In the short term, Theresa May’s hard Brexit speech last week, making it clear that Britain will leave the single market and, in all probability, the EU customs union under her watch, has thrown Labour a potential lifeline.

Her threat that Britain could set itself up as a North Sea tax haven if EU leaders play hardball on single market access, has given Labour MPs a legitimate reason to withhold their support for an Article 50 bill.

Wait-and-see tactic

In the current climate, campaigning to overturn the referendum result is political suicide. The Brexit process is, however, at the mercy of unknown future events.

If May presents MPs with a meagre offering in two years time, and the threat of turning Britain into a deregulated tax haven is closer to reality, there will be a strong case to hold another in/out referendum.

Labour’s best chance probably lies in playing wait-and-see until the negotiating process becomes a little clearer. It is still a long shot, and does not even begin to address the party’s wider existential crisis, or how it will deal with the immigration question.

But for the moment, it might be the only way Labour can hold the line with its supporters on Europe.

Brexit men launch anti-EU website

Westmonster, modelled on hard-right US websites, said it was: "Pro-Brexit, pro-Farage, pro-Trump. Anti-establishment".

Theresa May outlines 'hard Brexit'

The British prime minister confirms that the UK will leave the single market when it leaves the EU and will seek a new trade deal.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit Britain cannot rely on Trump's trade vows

Theresa May came away from her meeting with Donald Trump bearing the promise of a future UK-US trade pact. The pledge was rich in symbolism, but not much else.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

How to reset EU-Burma relations

Europe should go back to its pre-2012 policy, wipe away aid and trade benefits, and tie democratic efforts to the reinstatement of benefits.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights