As the Labour Party Conference begins, Politico reports that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Andrew Marr that the UK would be ‘better off’ outside the EU with a trade deal. Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) wants to wait until after a general election to decide whether it will support a deal Corbyn negotiates. The Labour leader himself has wavered on a commitment to support EU membership, unlike other senior Labour shadow ministers. Although the Labour Party has been united in its condemnation of a no-deal Brexit, and succeeded in delaying one before Boris’s prorogation of Parliament, their leader’s latest statement proves Labour’s official Brexit policy is becoming increasingly unclear.
The problem he faces is that he has supported leaving the EU throughout his entire political career and that is why Corbyn is finding it hard to muster any enthusiasm for adopting a pro-Remain stance. Furthermore, the lack of support he has from his Shadow Cabinet is not helping matters. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry appeared on BBC‘s Question Time earlier this month and suggested her party would negotiate its own Brexit deal with Brussels and then campaign to remain in the bloc. This suggests she would trash Labour’s own agreement in a referendum on the matter. She also appeared at a People’s Vote rally dressed in the colours of the EU flag and insisted what the pro-Remain group were campaigning for was ‘true democracy.’ However, she told The Guardian she could support the Tories’ final deal in exchange for a public vote on it. The Daily Express reported three months ago that Ms Thornberry could be sacked for insinuating her party should support a second referendum. It is unclear what the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s true views on the issue are.
Although the Government intends to amend the Irish backstop and ensure the UK leaves the EU on October 31st, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell stressed that his party will refuse to support Boris’s deal regardless. Politics Home reports this is because any agreement the Prime Minister negotiates is likely to fall short on protecting working and environmental rights. He added it could also allow Donald Trump to buy this country. Yet he failed to specify how he would secure these rights. McDonnell is also in favour of a second referendum, but his latest stance on the final Brexit deal contradicts what he said on The Andrew Marr Show at the start of the month. He told the BBC News presenter that his party is likely to support either the Norway option or a version of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. These contradictory messages from Shadow Cabinet members demonstrate a lack of discipline from Corbyn as he struggles to decide upon a consistent Brexit policy.
It seems like opposition to a no-deal Brexit is the only clear policy stance the Labour leadership can agree on. Until July, Labour had been opposed to a second referendum, but many senior Shadow Cabinet members now seem to support one. But their lack of unity on what a final deal should look like also makes their Brexit policy appear muddled. Corbyn has said he wants to negotiate an agreement that ensures Britain remains a member of the Customs Union and the Single Market. The Labour leader will soon be forced to choose between publicly supporting remaining in the EU or leaving it in a second referendum, although he has refused to support either side until now. Given his lack of support for the EU became apparent in 2016, this may cost the Remain side victory if a second vote were held. Whilst the Cabinet appears united on leaving the EU, the opposition continue to tear themselves apart.