LABOUR’S bewildering stance on Brexit has for some time been ripe for ridicule. For example, during September a Question Time audience derided Emily Thornberry when the shadow foreign secretary confirmed that she would ‘negotiate [a deal] to the best of my ability’ but then urge the public to reject it: ‘Personally, I will campaign to Remain.’
Fellow panellist Iain Dale won loud applause for interjecting: ‘Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds to everyone watching this programme . . . you think people are going to vote for you on that basis?’
Iain’s incredulity was aimed not just at Thornberry. More generally, it was the Labour leadership that Dale presumably had in mind when he posed the rhetorical question: ‘Have you no shame?’
Evidently not, because no longer is that policy just comic conjecture. Labour’s effrontery is now an election manifesto commitment: ‘Within three months of coming to power, a Labour government will secure a sensible deal. And within six months, we will put that deal to a public vote alongside the option to Remain.’
The manifesto stops short of stating that Labour will oppose its own ‘sensible leave option’ proposals (SLOPs). However, Labour might as well have written: ‘Within six months the Labour government will hold a rigged referendum between two versions of Remain. We will then immediately implement the people’s decision to abandon Brexit and pretend that we have upheld democracy.’
Jo Swinson’s pledge simply to revoke Article 50 appears to have backfired, but at least the LibDems’ disdain for the demos was open and unabashed. Labour’s plot to conduct a democratic deception is far more cynical.
Like Emily Thornberry, other members of the shadow cabinet, including John McDonnell and Keir Starmer, have said that in the event of there being a Labour-led referendum they will oppose their own deal. Jeremy Corbyn, though, has promised to remain neutral: ‘I will be the honest broker.’
Corbyn does of course have an unsavoury history of being ‘present but not involved’. On his intention to stay aloof from a second vote, Andrew Neil pressed the putative prime minister: ‘Who would lead the campaign in favour of the Corbyn deal if not Jeremy Corbyn?’
That poser underlined the absurdity of his party’s position. However, by dwelling upon which politicians, if any, might recommend Labour’s SLOPs, Brillo overlooked a more fundamental question regarding Labour’s renegotiated deal: Why on earth would anyone vote for it?
Labour has vowed that its ‘Leave’ option will include a permanent customs union, single market alignment, and ongoing import of low-paid workers; in short, a facsimile of EU membership. No self-respecting Brexiteer, even one who previously held his or her nose and supported the Conservatives’ concessions and compromises, could possibly stomach Labour’s SLOPs.
Current opinion polls suggest there is little prospect of Labour being able to implement its manifesto. However, this remains a uniquely unpredictable election and I for one still fear the effects in marginal constituencies of anti-Tory tactical voting and the Left’s ability to, ahem, ‘maximise’ its postal support.
Heaven forbid, but suppose Labour either squeaks a small majority or, more plausibly, is propped up in government by some lunatic alliance of the Left which is rabidly Remain: how many voters might then participate in the subsequent referendum?
Turnout in 2016 was 72 per cent: 33.5million were motivated to take part, including many Leavers who naively thought, perhaps for the first time in their life, that their vote might actually matter. No doubt all Remainiacs would enthusiastically turn out for a re-run. But in a Labour-led second referendum, in which significantly splitting from the EU is not an option, marginalised Brexiteers surely would either concertedly spoil their ballot papers or, more likely, simply boycott the cynical charade.
Even if Labour were brazenly to extend the electoral franchise to 16-year-olds and all EU residents, my guess is that fewer than 20million – under half the electorate – would vote; and due to a mass abstention by Brexiteers, Remain would triumph by a farcical margin similar to the victories of Kim Jong-un.
Yet according to its election manifesto, staging such a sham is how Labour intends to ‘get beyond Brexit’ and ‘heal the harmful divisions in our communities’ – a notion which insults the intelligence of Leave voters. Small wonder then that just a fortnight before polling day, Labour is said to have changed strategy in a belated attempt to connect with Brexiteers. The BBC reports: ‘In the next two weeks, if you live in a Leave area, you are likely to see a very different style of campaign. Labour will give a higher profile to shadow cabinet members who back a Leave deal rather than Remain.’
Are there such members of the shadow cabinet? If these mythical creatures do exist, look out for them in Leave constituencies, desperately trying to sell Labour’s SLOPs.