Is it Labour’s duty to oppose Article 50 – or to oppose the Tory deal arising from it?

Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK has put forward the following as reasons Labour should not support the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty when the Tory government puts it before Parliament:

Exercising Article 50 now is reckless because we do not know if it is revocable or not… The government has a duty to find out the consequences of exercising Article 50 before acting.

Labour would need to explain that exercising Article 50 must take place on the basis of a viable and costed alternative plan. It cannot be the case that exercising this option on the basis that nothing will change unless to the advantage of the UK, as the government is implying, is realistic when it is glaringly obvious that the EU will extract a price for our departure. Labour has find out what that price is before it can vote for Artcile 50.

Then Labour has to establish how long this process will take. The EU and all international precedents say that two years is quite unrealistic.

And last … the direct cost of leaving has very obviously to be established. We know there is one and that figures of up to £60 billion have been mentioned. Some candour on what that sum might really be, how it will be paid, and when that might be necessary is required from the government and on that there has been no hint of a suggestion to date.

Source: Tax Research UK » It is Labour’s duty to oppose Article 50 given what we know now

I have a lot of respect for Mr Murphy, although I don’t always agree with him. He has clearly thought carefully about this, but I don’t agree with him now.

Like it or not, there has been a referendum on membership of the EU. The UK electorate voted and there was a clear majority in favour of leaving. Claims that only a quarter of the population actually voted for that will be ruled invalid, as half of those who didn’t vote did not have a right to, and the other half chose not to, indicating that they didn’t care about the result. That is not my opinion; it is the argument.

As Jeremy Corbyn says, Labour has a duty to respect the will of the people, as exercised in the referendum. So Labour must support the invocation of Article 50.


Mr Murphy’s arguments have validity, if related to Theresa May’s plan for the way the UK leaves the EU.

She has not told us if our departure is reversible; while she has told us the process will take two years, she has not explained her reasoning; she has not told us the cost of our departure; and she certainly hasn’t given us any reassurance that her alternative plan – for a UK outside the EU – even exists, let alone whether it has been costed and is viable!

Should Mr Corbyn vote against Mrs May’s plans? Almost certainly.

Should he vote against invoking Article 50? Probably not – because that would be against the will of the people.

So what’s the answer? If he calls for a delay, until there is a costed plan, Mrs May will accuse him of failing to respect the referendum verdict.

Well, let’s think about what will happen if he supports Article 50, and the Tories don’t have a workable plan. Whose fault will that be?

It will be Theresa May’s fault, not his. He’ll have supported the will of the people, but Mrs May will have failed them – and proved she is incapable of running the UK – by failing to come up with a viable plan within the budget available.

One more stipulation: Any plan Mrs May puts forward will need to ensure that no UK citizen loses out financially because of Brexit. Nobody voted for that.

So it isn’t Mr Corbyn who is at a disadvantage here; it is Mrs May. He can support Article 50 with no qualms at all.

If she wants to retain the confidence of the British people, she’d better stop sitting on her thumbs and get her act together!

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11 thoughts on “Is it Labour’s duty to oppose Article 50 – or to oppose the Tory deal arising from it?

  1. Paul

    Labour coupled with all the other parties put together cannot stop the Conservatives from triggering article 50 unless every non-Tory MP AND at least 5 Conservative MPs vote against that action. This has no chance of happening. So instead of whipping Labour MPs to toe some party line and vote collectively one way or another, why not just allow them to vote freely, according to their consciences, and avoid a lot of internal argy bargy within Labour itself?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Because then the national (Tory) press would do a huge amount of harm to Labour’s public image by proclaiming, loudly and continuously, that “Labour hates democracy!” of course.

  2. Barry Davies

    We don’t need to exercise article 50 at all, we can leave without it, and the EU would have to be stupid to try to punish us for leaving because as leading economists are saying he eurozone is already in dire straits and heading towards another crash, without our trade it would have no chance of survival whatsoever. Mays failure to tell us if the majority decision to leave is reversible is a strange thing to consider a fault after all being reversible is pointless when you are going one way. What is it with the losing side in the referendum that they think they can apply all sorts of conditions after the fact? We are leaving and as both sides claimed in the run up to the vote that means leaving the single market and all the paraphenalia involved in the subjugation by brussels.

  3. Chris Lovett

    It’s not just about the lies the leave campaign told, it’s about the truths the remain one never mentioned. For instance, how about this?

    Since 2004, European Union law has allowed governments to control movements of EU citizens as follows: allow EU citizens to freely circulate only for three months and then require them (should they want to stay longer) to show they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have sufficient resources (pension, savings) to support themselves and comprehensive sickness insurance eg a valid European health insurance card enabling the NHS to claim back the cost of treatment or have private health insurance. The UK is one of the few governments that has not implemented this.
    “For six years, Theresa May was in charge of the Home Office responsible for immigration, yet did nothing to adopt these conditions. One wonders why not and why immigration was allowed to dominate the referendum and is still being paraded as a big problem. Yet another failure of our own government and the Home Office under Theresa May is being blamed on the EU. The remedy was always in the UK’s hands.

    What’s your take on that? How can you or anyone else justify this ridiculous mistake as the “will of the people”? It might just as well have been a spot the ball” contest.

    Brexit: voting to ‘take back’ what we had never lost, in order to lose everything we had.

    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” H.L. Mencken.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The issue you mention is one that I raised, here on This Site.
      I’m surprised you weren’t aware of that.

  4. Wirral In It Together

    I didn’t vote in the EU Referendum on 23rd June but conversely I DID care about the result.

    I didn’t personally take part because I believed it to be a foregone conclusion, having seen the Electoral Commission change (without prior notification) its ‘Voting Count Model’ before the 15th May 2015 General Election (only discovered much later), allowing alleged fraud on a widespread scale.

    The Electoral Commission oversees ALL elections and ballots and I believe the vote was rigged … and due to this, it didn’t matter which way the public voted. But that’s another (very long) story. For another time. It’s indicated on social media with the hashtag #VotegateUK

  5. Peter Hepworth

    Without a plan thoroughly debated and sanctioned by both Houses, the invocation of Article 50 is premature. It seems elementary common sense that we should agree what we are seeking before making a statement of intent. The arbitrary deadline set by the government is designed to precipitate a hard Brexit, which is the will of UKIP & the Tory right, and not the will of the people by any stretch of the imagination. Labour should therefore oppose the invocation of Article 50 until a position has been established.

  6. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    Good Morning Mike,

    Thanks for that excellent article. I am off to a local Labour Party meeting this morning and I shall take a copy with me to show around in case any members have not red VOX today if you have no objection.



    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I was in bed with the bad belly blues (not to mention my head) when you commented. I think I saw a remark on Facebook that stated Labour could support the Art 50 vote and still vote against Mrs May’s plan… Not convinced about how effective that might be, though, as the vote on the plans is likely to be an ultimatum, rather than debate-and-revise legislation.

  7. Joan Edington

    “Any plan Mrs May puts forward will need to ensure that no UK citizen loses out financially because of Brexit. Nobody voted for that.”

    Anyone with an iota of common sense knows that won’t happen. I also would not argue against not triggering article 50, at all for the same reason as the 2nd part of your statement. You say that it is the will of the people but, as you say, “Nobody voted for that”. A result based on all the lies spouted during the campaign should be null and void, unless Mrs May can actually prove that the NHS will get £350m, immigration will plummet and our economy soar.

Comments are closed.