Brexit has been the major issue for all UK political parties. The Conservatives seem unable to agree on any sort of plan or aim for the upcoming negotiations. UKIP seem to be imploding after achieving their single political aim. The Liberal Democrats to their credit have some sort of plan but one that could be unpopular with 17 million leave voters. You might expect this to be a golden opportunity for Labour but it looks like an opportunity likely to be missed.
It appears that the decision to leave the European Union was one no one expected and no one planned for but shocked almost everyone. Nobody within government, in the leave or remain camps seems to have planned for what happened if the UK voted to exit the EU. The mess the government and consequently the country finds itself in would normally present a giant open goal for the opposition, however we are in unprecedented political times.
Brexit is an issue like no other and the opposition have a leader they don’t like, often don’t agree with and who doesn’t lead by example. It is a complete dereliction of duty as opposition in Parliament. This week the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, spoke to the press about Brexit suggesting any delays or attempts to block the process are not only wrong but supporting “certain corporate elites.”
These comments would, in normal political times, be considered divisive and incendiary but may just go down as ‘honest politics’ in the current climate. John McDonnell is someone who campaigned for remain, represents a European friendly party with 65% of its voters backing remain and is the main opposition. To firstly say those trying to scrutinise the deal are wrong is controversial but then to try and increase divisions by saying they’re on the side of big business is unprofessional and then to add that “moral pressure” will ensure a good deal is entirely undemocratic.
It is not John McDonnell’s job, nor any member of parliament’s job, to go against what the public votes for but he is elected to provide an opposition and to fight for decisions and actions that would give his constituents the best outcome. For McDonnell to effectively surrender any pretence of opposition to anything the Conservatives put forward is undemocratic but to cede his role as opposition to “moral pressure” is shocking.
Do not believe parts of the media when they claim that MPs are attempting to sabotage the UK’s exit from the European Union. MP’s are entitled, and it is their public duty to, investigate, scrutinise and evaluate anything a government proposes, especially during Brexit as Parliament gains more influence. Although the referendum on June 23rd was a vote to leave the EU, unfortunately it offered no guidance as to how. Nor did it explain what agreements, deals and understandings should be kept or lost. This is why Parliament needs to be consulted and trusted on this issue.
Labour would not be doing its national duty if it followed the example set by John McDonnell. Simply waving through anything and everything Theresa May puts forward is not what an opposition does in a democracy and weakens any larger debate on the topic too. While the government needs to decide upon a strategy it is also time for the opposition party to do so too.
It is time for Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Keir Starmer (shadow Brexit secretary) and Hilary Benn (leader of Brexit select committee) to decide on what they would want from the negotiations. The public want some leadership and a plan so Labour needs to set out their red lines, aspirations and key areas for the negotiation to show some competency and leadership. Some in the party have called for continued membership of the single market, others for ‘access’ and some for a focus on immigration instead. It is time for Labour and the Conservatives to finish with the mixed messages, finish with the political slogans about ‘harming our negotiation position’ or ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and make some decisions.
Those decisions must be then examined and discussed by Parliament. If there are elements in the proposals which would lessen the quality of life for their constituents then MPs are entitled to vote against them. It is not undemocratic; in fact it is the opposite. It is not to be on the side of “certain corporate elites” and proposals are certainly not going to be swayed by “moral pressure” alone. For some a Brexit vote was for increased sovereignty and more power for Parliament, it is about time Labour and John McDonnell used that and fought for the best possible outcome.