I would like to address this article directly to those Labour MPs who are in seats that voted heavily to leave the EU in the 2016 EU referendum, and as a result are seriously considering voting for Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement on Saturday. I will use this space to try and talk you out of doing so.
I understand your concerns and why you are tempted to vote for the “deal”. You are getting Brexit in the neck on the doorstep constantly. You fear being seen to be standing in the way of something a lot of the country seems to be getting behind at the moment. You worry you will be voted out at the next general election, whenever it comes, probably by the Tories, which makes it worse. You think that getting Brexit “done”, even though you well know the Withdrawal Agreement does no such thing, will allow Labour to get onto ground that is more electorally fertile. You figure it will probably kill the Lib Dem surge, bringing all those Remainers back into the Labour fold. There might even be some nagging fears about no deal happening.
Here are four reasons why I think most of those assumption are incorrect, or at least, that voting for the WA won’t help ameliorate the problems involved, and why you should all vote against the Withdrawal Agreement on Saturday.
- From a Labour perspective, this WA is slightly worse than May’s was
One of the main reasons that you voted against May’s “deal” was that she wouldn’t provide you with enough comfort on things like workers rights. In that light, consider the BoJo deal: not only have you not got anything more on this area in this agreement, what little May put in on the level playing field has been taken out and placed in the political declaration instead – and with weaker wording there to boot. This is key: the WA is a legal document that has real, concrete meaning that is very difficult to change; the PD is just a plan of what the UK would ideally like to achieve in a future trade deal with the EU.
Now, I can hear some of you thinking: yes, but the final trade deal would have to be voted on in parliament, and if it doesn’t contain enough of the level playing field stuff that I’d need to see, I’ll vote it against it then. In the meantime, I get this off my plate and show my constituents I’m not trying to block Brexit. But what if the Tories get a stonking majority at the next election? What if this is your one and only chance to try and enshrine workers’ rights and other matters into whatever Brexit takes place? What if this is your last ever chance to genuinely influence the process? Further to this, what if crafty campaigners from a rival party try and use your vote for the WA as evidence that you allowed the stripping of rights to occur on your watch?
2. You are handing the next election to Boris Johnson and the Tories by letting the deal pass
Until the poo hits the fan, probably around July 2020 when we need to think about the first in what will no doubt be a series of extensions of the “transition period”, another Brexit misnomer if ever there was one, Boris Johnson will be a hero amongst a sizeable chunk of the electorate for having “delivered Brexit”. A combination of this, added to the fact that Remainers will be furious with Labour for having been decisive in helping the deal pass parliament, will see the Labour vote squeezed in several directions at once. A terrible result for Labour looks very possible.
Okay, you say, but if the deal passes, we can avoid a general election for a little while. Really? How? As I’ve just laid out, Boris will be a hero and the government still be left without a majority. You could have stood in the way of the 2017 general election with good reason – the government has a majority, we only had a GE two years ago, Brenda from Bristol will be annoyed, etc – but none of that will fly now. I repeat, the government does not have a majority. We have a zombie administration that is being kept in place by Labour, only now with the deal having passed the only obvious reason there isn’t an election is that Labour are scared of one. The political pressure to have a GE, as soon as possible, will almost certainly become overwhelming.
3. You are ironically opening yourself up to future charges of having “betrayed Brexit”
I listened to the Nigel Farage radio programme all the way through last night for the first time in my life. It was fascinating: the whole show was Farage up against the wall, trying to convince his listeners that Johnson’s deal wasn’t Brexit, but having every caller give some iteration of: “I love you, Nige, and we wouldn’t have Brexit without you. But now’s just the time to back Boris and get this all over the line”. Farage seemed defeated.
But his time will almost certainly come again when everything he’s talking about Brexit not being finished by a long stretch comes true. Imagine him riding high when Boris has to ask for an extension to the transition period next July, which he almost certainly will have to. You could have your Leaver constituents swayed by the Brexit Party again, asking you on the doorstep “Why did you vote for Johnson’s terrible deal that isn’t really Brexit?”. Ask yourself now how you’ll talk your way out of that one.
4. The WA passing on Labour votes could destroy the Labour vote amongst young people for a generation
When talking about destroying a vote for a party, we all need to be careful. This is what we thought would happen with the Lib Dems and tuition fees – turns out the Brexit chaos was enough for that to be mostly forgiven inside of a decade. But I would urge you to consider what you are playing with here. I really don’t think young people’s attachment to the European Union is going anywhere. That Lib Dem surge you think closing the deal will kill? You might be about to make it even stronger, costing Labour seats for some time to come. Now, that probably won’t affect most of you immediately given the demographics of your seats, but a). consider your colleagues, particularly in London and b). consider the future, of both the party and your seat.
It looks like whether the deal passes parliament or not will come down to Labour votes. In many ways, this is unfair, but that’s politics for you. A lot rides on your shoulders, and I don’t envy you. Good luck.