Brexit: Cross-party talks keep on keeping on (surprisingly)
Jeremy Corbyn | AP

The sky is falling. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Time to jump ship. And on and on it goes, the doom-and-gloom-speak over a potential Brexit fallout, and the slow grinding, cross-party talks on a way forward between the Labor and Conservative parties.

The whispers coming from backbench members of Parliament, on both sides, is that talks between the two are going nowhere. While Labor Party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has done what he can to reach a Brexit compromise with British Prime Minister Theresa May—stressing the importance of European Union/U.K. customs union—concerns remain over whether a future Conservative premier would honor any compromise reached by the current government.

The concerns don’t end there. The division within the Labor Party, pitting pro-EU, Remain members against Leave members, has led to demands of a second referendum as the price for Labor’s support of a cross-party deal.

Corbyn has long resisted the demand, but there’s fear Labor risks losing both Leave and Remain voters in the upcoming EU Parliament elections. And Labor’s loss of council seats in this month’s local elections hammers down that fear.

Labor’s Brexit secretary Kier Starmer doubts any Brexit deal could pass parliament, warning that up to 150 Labour MPs would reject the agreement if no public vote was attached to it.

“A significant number of Labor MP’s, probably 120 if not 150, would not back a deal that hasn’t got a confirmatory vote,” said Starmer to the Guardian Newspaper.

He continued: “There is concern in Leave areas about whether some of our voters might vote for other parties, but I think there is an increasing concern that some of the Labor Remain voters might not vote Labor…It is very important that we learn those lessons.”

For May, the pressure continues to mount, too. Earlier this week senior Conservative Party members, former ministers, and party leadership competitors, including Boris Johnson, May’s likely successor, drafted a blunt warning against any deal that involved an EU customs union—adding weight to Labor’s concern.

“We believe that a customs union-based deal with Labor will very likely lose the support of Conservative MPs like us who backed the withdrawal agreement in March (in many cases very reluctantly), and you would be unlikely to gain as many Labor MPs to compensate,” said the letter, obtained by the Times.

“More fundamentally, you would have lost the loyal middle of the Conservative Party, split our party and with likely nothing positive to show for it. No leader can bind his or her successor, so the deal would likely be at best temporary, at worst illusory.”

Labor’s finance chief John McDonnell said of the recent Conservative letter: “What we are all concerned about is the letter from Boris Johnson which said he wouldn’t accept a customs union, one of our key elements, and secondly that if he was leader, and he may well be, that he would overturn any deal that we’d agreed.

“That doesn’t inspire confidence in the ability to secure a deal that lasts longer than a couple of months.”

May’s fragile position and its impact on a Brexit deal have been discussed at the cross-party table. And yet, despite those concerns, May’s cabinet gave her the green light to continue negotiations with the Labor Party early Tuesday.

“Ministers involved [in the cabinet meeting] set out details of the compromises which the government was prepared to consider, in order to secure an agreement which would allow the UK to leave the EU, with a deal, as soon as possible,” said the prime minister’s spokesperson.

The spokesperson added the cabinet had agreed it was “imperative to bring forward the withdrawal agreement in time for it to receive royal assent [when the Queen formally makes a bill into law]” before Parliaments’ summer recess.

No date has been set for the summer recess, which usually begins mid-July.

MPs will be taking a weeklong recess starting May 23, the day of EU elections, through June 4.

What does the EU have to say on all this?

In an interview with Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, European Council president Donald Tusk said there’s a good chance Brexit won’t happen at all. “Today the chance that Brexit will not happen is, in my opinion, 20-30 percent,” he said.

“A real debate about the consequences of Brexit wasn’t had during the referendum campaign, but only after the vote…Today, the result would probably look different. Paradoxically, Brexit awoke in Great Britain a pro-European movement.”

Tusk went on to call the Brexit referendum decision made by former British Prime Minister David Cameron a “political miscalculation,” and would expect a different outcome if another vote was held.

“If the 2016 referendum was able to change the result of the referendum in 1975, why can it not be changed again? Nothing is irreversible until people believe it is,” he added.

Tusks tenure as president ends in November. But until then, his main task is to make sure the EU “shows patience” and is ok with waiting a bit longer for Brexit to take place.

Calls for a “People’s Boycott” of EU polls

While EU leaders and pro-EU sections of the Labor Party demand a second public vote on Brexit and gear up for EU members of Parliament elections, the Communist Party of Britain is calling for the opposite, and with good reason.

The CPB has called for a “People’s Boycott” of the upcoming elections, saying:

“Britain should have left the EU and its institutions by now, almost three years after the result – but this has been prevented so far by a majority of MPs and the Tory Cabinet who want to keep us tied to EU single market and customs union rules if they can’t sabotage Brexit altogether.

“Boycotting the elections to a “sham European Parliament that cannot even initiate its own legislation” would send the clearest message to the political and big business establishment that the referendum result must be honored.”

The CPB repeated its demand for an early general election, and the formation of a left-led Labour government, emphasizing the need for a future Labor government to be free from EU big business rules and policies.

“Winning the war against carbon emissions, global warming, and climate change is not possible without winning the war against capitalist ownership, market anarchy and political power and for the social ownership and planning of energy, transport and the economy as a whole,” said the statement in closing.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.