If Labour makes only one New Year’s resolution, it must be to clarify its policy on Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn has been urged ‘to move from ambiguity in 2017 over Brexit to clarity in 2018’ [Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA].

Consider this:

Labour is coming under pressure from leading pro-remain campaigners to clarify its stance on Brexit, after polling showed that a quarter of its current voters could switch party by the next election and more than half would oppose Labour backing Brexit.

The poll of people planning to vote Labour – conducted by YouGov for the Best of Britain campaign group – found 24% said they may change their minds before the next election, and two-thirds of those who voted remain would be disappointed or angry if Labour says it will proceed with Brexit.

The poll also found many Labour voters have opposing perceptions about the party’s current stance on Brexit. It found 32% of Labour remain voters believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” and a further 31% of Labour leave voters believe Labour is “completely in favour of Brexit”.

Mark Malloch Brown, a crossbench peer and chair of Best for Britain, said: “This data shows, clearly, that many more remainers are likely to abandon Labour over its Brexit line than leavers. Labour did so well in the election off the back of pro-European voters tactically voting for them. All that could be at risk if this policy, a calculated policy of ambiguity, continues.”

Seventy Labour councillors from south London have called on Jeremy Corbyn to be open to giving voters another say on Brexit.

(Source: Labour voters could abandon party over Brexit stance, poll finds | Politics | The Guardian)

All well and good, eh?

Now, consider this:

Whilst Labour’s vote share in the general election this year went up, we should remember that some Labour MPs lost their seats. Two of those were near-neighbours of mine: Natascha Engel in North East Derbyshire and Alan Meale in Mansfield. Both of these seats voted firmly to leave the European Union, and saw former UKIP supporters and Labour Leave voters coming together to back the Conservative candidate. Across the UK too, the other seats Labour lost were all heartlands for the Leave campaign, as were many of those where our majority was reduced.

In recent years, I have carried out surveys online, emailing directly to constituents and posting on my Facebook page. As a result, there is always a considerable bias towards those who are younger and more politically engaged. Therefore my surveys have always shown more pro-Remain results than the constituency voted in the referendum in June 2016.

In my survey in November 2017… 53 per say they would back Leave versus 40 per cent for Remain.

It is clear to me that Leave would still win, and by a larger majority. There is little evidence of a swing back to Remain or of large numbers of my constituents having “buyer’s remorse” with Brexit. Instead, it seems that opinion has hardened, particularly among Leave voters. Reading the responses, it is clear that many Labour Leave voters would regard any attempt to frustrate the result as insulting and a betrayal.

Second, large numbers of Labour voters in the north and midlands would back Leave in any second referendum. If Labour is serious about keeping their support, we must be conscious that that they do not regret their decision in the slightest. This tallies with my survey in 2016, when the majority of voters told me they needed no further information on how to vote. Opinions are therefore entrenched among Labour Leavers.

Third, support for a second referendum is low overall and very low among Leavers. Calls for a second vote are being driven by Remainers (predominantly in Westminster), and any referendum would be viewed very negatively by Leavers.

Finally, Brexit seems to be dividing Labour voters into two camps. Metropolitan, socially-liberal, younger voters are flirting with second referendums and have no time for those who have concerns over immigration. Meanwhile, northern, working class, older voters feel that only delivering on the Leave vote will address their concerns.

(Source: John Mann: Winning The Next Election Demands A Direct Appeal To Leave Voters In The Midlands And North)

What are we to conclude?

Firstly, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to Mr Mann’s survey. Bassetlaw has an electorate of more than 78,000, more than 27,000 of whom voted for Mr Mann in June – but only 2,797 people responded to his poll. Mr Mann himself is a dyed-in-the-wool Brexiter.

And – as we have noted in the case of Suella Fernandez, Brexiters have a tricky relationship with the facts; they tend to twist information to suit themselves.

This Writer can’t say whether Mr Mann is playing fast and loose with the information available to him – but he certainly has an agenda.

That said, he makes points that are worth considering.

The statistics quoted in the first extract (above) suggest that Labour can afford to lose Remain voters much less than Leave voters – and we know that the decision to quit the EU has already damaged the UK economically, even in advance of our departure. So, for This Writer’s money, Labour should reconsider its policy of supporting Brexit and devise a new approach.

A party of government must follow policies that are right for the United Kingdom – that benefit the nation and the majority of its people, not just a rich and manipulative few.

So, if Labour is in danger of losing Leave voters in the North, Labour should consider explaining the situation and persuading those voters that this is the wrong time to quit our most important economic alliance.

It is an argument that should not be made on the EU issue alone.

If people are threatening to vote against a Labour that changes its position to support remaining in the EU, then Labour must remind those people of the worthwhile policies they will be opposing – and the useless Tory policies they will be supporting – by switching their vote to other parties in protest.

Brexit itself is a useless policy. It will result in economic harm – particularly to northern and deprived parts of the UK – and the Conservatives will take advantage of the fact that EU law will no longer cover us, to remove workers’ rights – and probably human rights – from poor or working-class people. They are already calling for workers’ rights to be stripped away.

It is in this context that Labour should consider renouncing its support for Brexit.

It should also be remembered that the political party that pushes Brexit through, in spite of the clear and demonstrable harm it does to the UK, its economy and its people, will suffer electoral blight for years, if not decades, to come.

The party that takes up position against Brexit, heeding the evidence that we have now, will be well-placed to take advantage of that situation, when – not if – it arises.

Sooner or later, Labour must make this choice. The longer party leaders hesitate, the less effective will be the decision.

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22 thoughts on “If Labour makes only one New Year’s resolution, it must be to clarify its policy on Brexit

  1. Roland Laycock

    YouGov a Tory run organisation, that wants to find the Achilles’ heel of the Labour Party then the media will go in for the attack, and as the saying goes divide and conquer, which ever way Labour goes it can’t win one half will be very upset.

  2. HomerJS

    Well . . if you go for leave you will lose lots of votes. But if you go for remain . . you will lose lots of votes. Ever wondered why Corbyn is sitting on the fence? Don’t fall for the idea that this is about Brexit. This is about undermining Corbyn, to force him to choose in a no-win scenario.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      If you go for Leave you will lose lots of votes, sure.
      If you go for Remain, you will lose lots of votes if you don’t adequately explain why this is the only sane choice. If you do adequately explain this – and it is the only sane choice, as we all know – then you will gain votes.
      It’s as easy as that.

      1. Sue

        I doubt it. If labour allow themselves to be sucked into this trap we will lose the next election. In my view our choice is now simple —- a possible labour govt or not? Currently labour cannot be blamed for Brexit. Labour are honouring the people’s choice. I’d rather leave the EU with a Labour govt.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        It isn’t a trap. It is the only sane course of action.
        Lord Ashcroft just conducted a straw poll on Twitter, to check the strength of feeling for a second referendum. Last I checked, it was running at 2-1 in favour of one. That’s because people are increasingly aware that the result of the first referendum was a con. It was based on lies and should be voided.

      3. Sue

        None of the many people I know who voted Brexit have changed their minds? But I do get anger thrown at me when the media imply labour will “reverse” Brexit etc. The difficulty here is that the poll that counted was the referendum. referendums can be very divisive when they are close. I think that Labour will come across as very undemocratic if they go against the result. We should campaign for a labour govt.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        Why would Labour be considered undemocratic to oppose a referendum result that has been, quite evidently, rigged?
        Most people now oppose Brexit, whether you know them or not. Labour would be siding with the majority.
        We should indeed campaign for a Labour government. Some of us have been doing so since 2010. If we’d had one in 2015, we wouldn’t be going through the nightmare of Brexit now.

  3. aunty1960

    So, Labour has to be Pro Remain and Reverse Brexit to keep its white middle class liberal voters or Labour will lose these voters who will probably go to Greeens or LibDems

    Or Labour loses a lot of the mass north, lower working British class by ignoring their concerns and vote by stating they are pro remain and will reverse Brexit.

    The fact is Labour’s policy has always been anti the huge monster of EU unelected bureacracy.That was its stance at the beginning and has been throughout.

    There is something hardwired in your head that assumes Labour is liberal and full of ideas belonging to other politics and people.

    Corbyn has always been anti EU and for good reasons, Not taken in by the bumph, rhetoric and media myth, but sees it as a monster and bully dominating nations and people and decides who will fail and who will succeed as they can give and take opportunities and funding and give and take trade.

    Corbyn’s and Labour Left and socialist values are these

    ery skeptical of the EU.

    He voted in favour of leaving the European Economic Community in 1975.
    He voted against the Maastricht Treaty that created the EU. Here’s what he had to say about it — “It takes us in the opposite direction of an unelected legislative body—the Commission—and, in the case of foreign policy, a policy Commission that will be, in effect, imposing foreign policy on nation states that have fought for their own democratic accountability.”
    He voted against the Lisbon Treaty which is the current constitutional basis for the EU.
    Writing about the Greek crisis last year Corbyn said — “There is no future for a Europe that turns its smaller nations into colonies of debt peonage.”
    In an LBC interview, Corbyn implied that the EU was treating Greece “brutally.” — “If Europe becomes a totally brutal organisation that treats every one of its member states in the way that the people of Greece have been treated at the moment, then I think Europe will lose a lot of support from a lot of people.”
    In an article on his website, Corbyn wrote that the EU was responsible for the gross abuse of human rights in Western Sahara. However, the article was deleted.
    In another deleted article on his website, Corbyn wrote this — “The project has always been to create a huge free-market Europe, with ever-limiting powers for national parliaments and an increasingly powerful common foreign and security policy.”


    I am disappointed how many are taken in by the bumph and mirage of rights and free trade EU says it offers.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Please don’t distort Labour’s policy: Labour aims to represent everyone in the UK – both Leave and Remain voters. So there should be no leakage of voters to other parties – unless people believe inaccurate propaganda pumped out by misinformed – or disinforming people.

      So be careful what you suggest!

      There is nothing wrong with my head, thank you very much. Your own ideas about Labour seem extremely odd.

      Jeremy Corbyn is highly sceptical about the EU but knows that the best way forward for the UK was reform of that organisation from within. After the Brexit vote, the best he can manage is reform of that organisation’s relationship with the UK, as separate entities. That’s nothing like the hard Brexit that Theresa May wants (on the orders of her paymasters).

      None of this contradicts his position in voting against the Maastricht or Lisbon treaties.

      You seem determined to ignore, with regard to the EU, the fact that we are part of it. It is not a separate entity and if it has gone in the wrong direction, then the UK is at least partly responsible for that. David Cameron’s attempted reforms were completely inadequate, so of course no other country was interested when he went hawking them around the continent.

      Jeremy Corbyn would have suggested different changes and is likely to have enjoyed a different response.

      Please try to remember that none of the decisions that are made about the EU are EITHER/OR choices between just two possibilities. There are many.

      And please try to evaluate Labour on the basis of what it is now, rather than on the basis of your own prejudice.

  4. Liam

    Mike.. You say we shouldn’t pay much attention to John Manns figures, saying only 2797 responded. Yet in a previous article …

    “When a weighted sample of some 1,400 people were asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” – 51 per cent backed Remain, and 41 per cent backed Leave.
    7 per cent said “don’t know” and 1 per cent refused to answer.”

    You said…..”Well, sure – BMG isn’t Survation, but…
    A lead that large is usually taken as conclusive.”
    Come on,, you can’t have it both ways..

    I think JC has clarified one part of his policy on leaving the EU. No 2nd referendum.
    So we’ll never find out which survey is right…

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Okay: 2,797 of John Mann’s supporters responded to his survey. What was the composition of this sample of society? Do we know if it was weighted to adequately represent the population of his constituency?
      I think we can bet that it wasn’t.
      So the survey was not representative and may be dismissed.
      Happy now?

  5. jill phillips

    The position on Brexit has had to remain fluid for as long as the details of Tory shenanigans was kept under wraps. Now we know it really was all a charade.

    So yes – it is time that things were explained to those who crave escape.
    We should know in particular how Labour’s Manifesto would be positively, or negatively, affected in opposing situations. We should also know (but it mightn’t yet be diplomatically feasible) if a substantial number of other people in Europe (which would, it seems, welcome us back with open arms) would positively wish to develop more socialist community ways a là Manifesto – giving at least a chance of having a bit of cake on either side of the great divide…

    But we also MUST see to it that some decent popular media are developed to RESPECT immigrant workers and their families; to balance so much negativity by telling positive – often inspiring – truths about immigrant workers; especially their intrinsic value to the NHS – which is failing even whilst people cling defiantly to the criminally ill-informed dirty tricks journalism.

    And information should be given about the technology which is already swallowing up so many jobs… Do we tell it to go back to where it came from?
    Conversely, possibilities exist to plan a wonderful future – with leisure time keyed in – whilst a combination of just the desired amount of ‘work’ – plus a universal income should give the next generation something to really look forward to.

    Why aren’t kids being seriously educated in how to actively and positively enjoy themselves? Their school programmes should include the various disciplines in so many kinds of dancing, singing and playing music together.

    But yes – it all has still to be explained.

  6. Rupert MItchell

    We are in a very dangerous position here Mike. I feel very strongly that we should REMAIN and I definitely want Jeremy Corbyn to at least make a comment rather than stay silent on the subject. As much as I want to REMAIN, I would certainly not abandon my Labour party if it continues to back LEAVE as to do so would simply be playing right into the hands of the Tories and we would be sacrificing all Corbyn’s good points which would be a total disaster for this country! However, I do hope Jeremy will consider the majority here.

    Glad to get your views and comments and I hope you are now feeling much better.

  7. 4foxandhare

    I’ll be 78 in less than a month and I voted to remain, so I hope your appeal to Mr Corbyn is successful.
    There are plenty of reasons why we should have another referendum. Not least is the fact that Europe is our biggest market, which made the city of London an excellent base for all kinds of businesses to base their company, etc. However, it has become apparent that many of these companies are already packing up and leaving ……… for Europe!
    The last Referendum was seriously flawed. There was never any explanation of the supposed benefits, etc. of leaving. It was a shambles! If there’s a third one, it must make everything clear.

  8. Carol Fraser

    JC’s stance is ‘jobs first’. Leaving the EU is destroying that now and it will only get worse. JC is no fool and he knows he has the Brexiteers to deal with, so I do think he is currently content to let Maybot unravel it.

  9. Masmit

    This is just a distraction from the Tories?
    As I last looked it was the Tories doing the negotiations, so what’s the point using Tory attack, we don’t know what Labours position is.
    It’s simple as close to what we have now. What would be the point saying anything else.
    They cannot do anything to stop brexit, unless May chooses to have another election. Then Labour would put its position on brexit alongside its manifesto.
    I really don’t understand the point of your article

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Labour must oppose Brexit from now on. Brexit cannot be made into a successful enterprise for the United Kingdom and its people.
      Tell me, are you spectacularly rich? Do you have recourse to offshore funds and resources that will continue to be of high value, no matter what happens here in the UK?
      If not, then you would be insane to support Brexit; it will ruin you.

      1. Masmit

        A lot of people who voted for brexit has nothing. All they have seen in their lifetime is decline, and their kids, are still at home unable to afford to buy, or private rent, With no possibility of getting a council house. There’s been a decline in jobs, low pay, zero hours, bogus self employed, all this under the EU umbrella.
        So trying to sway people with your going to be worse off is like a red flag to a bull.
        I get the arguments for and against, but I except the referendum result to find the best working relationship with the EU from outside.
        Obviously we have been put in this position by the Tories, and it’s the Tories who are negotiating. So keep holding them to the fire and hope another election is offered.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Trying to sway people by saying they’re going to be worse off is like a red flag to a bull, is it?
        If you think matters are bad now, all I can say is, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
        Please don’t think anybody is exaggerating the nightmare that is Brexit. If anything, I suspect we are under-emphasising the harm.

  10. Sue

    Supporting remain at this stage is not a trap that Labour should fall into. We are within grasp of realising a radical socialist labour govt. in or out of the EU we can build with that. The alternative doesn’t bare thinking about.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Supporting Remain is really a sure-fire way to get elected. Brexit is a disaster – understand that. It will ruin the UK for decades to come, if it is allowed to happen. You will suffer, and so will everybody you know, for generations to come. And you say avoiding that is a trap? Wake up, please. Brexit is the alternative that doesn’t bear thinking about.

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