But is Johnson’s deal reconcilable with their constituents and their consciences?by Peter Kellner / October 22, 2019 / Leave a comment
Britain’s future relationship with the European Union lies in the hands of 25 men and women who were elected as Labour MPs two years ago. Nineteen of them recently wrote to Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk saying that the 2016 referendum result should be “honoured without delay.” A further six are no longer Labour MPs, but supported Boris Johnson in last Saturday’s vote in the House of Commons. In the days ahead, the way they vote will decide whether and when—and if so, in what form—Brexit will go ahead.
Last Saturday’s vote, in which MPs voted 322-306 to withhold support for Johnson’s deal with the EU until and unless parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, demonstrates the point. Of the 25 MPs, 11 voted with the government and 10 against it. Four abstained. Had they all voted for Oliver Letwin’s amendment, his majority would have more than doubled, from 16 to 42. Had they all voted against the amendment, the government would have won by eight.
Let us, however briefly, set aside the passions on both sides of the Brexit debate; instead, let us explore the arguments of principle that weigh on these 25 MPs. They fall into three groups.
The first is their mandate. They represent Leave-voting constituencies. Their most common argument is that they are honour-bound to respect the result of the referendum and the wishes of their voters. They are unmoved by the riposte that in virtually all—perhaps all—of their 25 constituencies, most LABOUR voters want the UK to remain in the EU. They say that their duty is to represent all their constituents, not just Labour voters.
A trickier issue is the nature of their mandate from the 2017 general election. True, Labour promised to “respect” the referendum result; but it imposed some clear conditions. It wanted a form of Brexit that would “protect workers’ rights and environmental standards.” It demanded “a strong emphasis on maintaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union.” It also wanted the UK to remain a member of such EU agencies as Euratom, Erasmus, Horizon 2020 and the European Medicines Agency.
Johnson’s deal rejects all these demands. The 25 MPs must now decide whether their mandate…