Thursday

11th Aug 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

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.

Only Western unity can stop Iran hostage-diplomacy

The Belgian parliament's recent decision to ratify its prisoner-exchange treaty with Iran is a grave mistake, and one which exemplifies the many downfalls of dealing with Iran's human-rights abuses on a case-by-case basis.

Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox

There's unprecedented international anxiety about the safety of Ukraine's nuclear reactors, but many European countries are also turning to nuclear power to secure energy supplies.

Column

Global hunger crisis requires more than just the Odessa deal

International donors are playing hide and seek. Instead of stepping up their assistance programmes, richer nations are cutting overseas aid, or reallocating funds from other parts of the world towards the Ukraine crisis.

Exploiting the Ukraine crisis for Big Business

From food policy to climate change, corporate lobbyists are exploiting the Ukraine crisis to try to slash legislation that gets in the way of profit. But this is only making things worse.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden overtakes France as EU's top power exporter
  2. Italy's far-right star in European charm offensive
  3. Another migrant tragedy claims 50 lives in Greek waters
  4. Russia hits area near town with 120 rockets, says Ukraine
  5. UN expects more ships to get Ukrainian grain out
  6. Greece to end bailout-era oversight
  7. Denmark to train Ukrainian soldiers in urban warfare
  8. Russian helicopter flies into Estonia's airspace

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Russian coal embargo kicks in, as EU energy bills surge
  2. Only Western unity can stop Iran hostage-diplomacy
  3. Kosovo PM warns of renewed conflict with Serbia
  4. EU Commission shrugs off Polish threats on rule-of-law
  5. EU urged to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians
  6. Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox
  7. Almost two-thirds of Europe in danger of drought
  8. West needs to counter Russia in Africa, but how?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us