The shadow trade secretary departed radically from the party line during a Prospect event in Liverpoolby Tom Clark / September 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
The shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, has laid bare the continuing tension on the opposition frontbench about Labour’s approach to Brexit. Speaking at a Prospect/Port of Dover fringe event at the party’s conference in Liverpool he warned that it was “looney tunes territory” for anyone to imagine Theresa May rushing to concede an early general election in the event of the Commons voting down her Brexit deal—even though it is official Labour policy to demand one. The remarks could set him on a collision course with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have been working towards a delicate compromise with the party’s membership.
The main media focus of the Liverpool conference has been on a dispute between largely pro-Remain members, who are trying to persuade Labour to endorse a second in/out referendum on the final Brexit deal, and the party leadership and certain union leaders, such as Len McCluskey, who are anxious this would alienate voters in Labour’s many northern and midland constituencies that plumped for Leave in 2016. A long meeting on Sunday night produced a carefully-worded motion which stresses the party’s preference for a general election in the event of the government’s Brexit plans hitting the rocks, and adds that “if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
Gardiner, however, was entirely dismissive of the prospect of any hope of a second election, pointing out that Conservative MPs would be certain to veto any attempt at dissolution under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, even if “by any miracle” May were to follow her ruinous decision to stage an early election last year by proposing another. He also made clear that he thought there would be no legal obligation on the government to concede a so-called “people’s vote” even if the Commons were to vote down May’s deal using a motion that demanded such a referendum.
While Gardiner said he would love an election and would cheerfully vote to Remain in any new referendum, people were in “looney tunes territory” if they thought the government would be rushing to concede these things. He said that in recent weeks, he had been talking to the Commons clerks about the consequences of the government’s Brexit plans being voted down, and…