Smith is one of the only people in Labour talking sense on Brexit

Owen Smith is wrong about a great many things and laughably inept at a great many others but he deserves praise for his approach to Brexit. Speaking on BBC radio this morning, he said that under his leadership Labour would oppose the triggering of Article 50 in a Commons vote (assuming there is one) unless certain conditions were met.

He was met with the customary response, which is that he is trying to circumnavigate the will of the people. His reply was very sensible. Labour would oppose any settlement which made working people worse off.

"Theresa May says that 'Brexit means Brexit' - but nobody knows what Brexit looks like. It could involve trashing workers' rights and environmental protections, opening our NHS up to foreign competition, making it harder for us to trade with our neighbours and damaging our economy. Under my leadership, Labour won't give the Tories a blank cheque. We will vote in parliament to block any attempt to invoke Article 50 until Theresa May commits to a second referendum or a general election on whatever EU exit deal emerges at the end of the process."

In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn's camp, who demanded we trigger Article 50 the day after the referendum vote and who can barely contain their glee at Brexit, want to "work with" the result of the referendum.

The Corbyn policy tacitly supports the most right-wing elements of the Conservative party and lends a helping hand to those who would dismantle the workers' rights they claim to care about so much.

As Smith says, Brexit is not a thing. It is an infinite variety of options. And that doesn't just mean the standard menu of EEA, EFTA, Canada-style trade deal or WTO. If we go for a hard Brexit, as right-wing Tories are demanding and some media reports (probably wrongly) suggest No10 is considering, many other options are on the table. Basically, the entirety of British law over the last few decades is up for grabs, in a bonfire of legislation. This is nothing less than an opportunity to reshape a country, and only the right-wing of the Tory party seem to recognise it.

It will touch on every aspect of society: workers' rights, environmental rules, chemical standards, data protection, pharmaceutical laws, veterinary training levels, meat processing regulation, age-related discrimination: all of it. If you can think of it, it is available. Everything is on the table, because all of it is entwined with European law or single market rules.

Saying Labour is going to "work with" the result doesn't mean anything, except that the Tories basically get to decide all this by themselves.

Smith's approach is far wiser. It says that Labour support - which is rather pivotal for a government faced with rowdy backbenchers and a majority of 12 - is contingent on certain factors. These should include the factors Theresa May has already singled out as important: Scotland's agreement - or at least acceptance - of the deal, ensuring that borders do not return to Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement survives the Brexit process. There should also be a condition on Gibraltar.

But it should also, as Smith implies, have economic conditions, as Gordon Brown used to restrain, and ultimately prevent, Tony Blair's efforts to adopt the euro. Broadly speaking, these tests should say that the deal will not impoverish working people or significantly endanger the economy. And it should involve some sort of democratic mandate for the final deal, either in the form of an election or a second referendum.

These are democratic locks ensuring that Brexit is fair, that it reflects the will of the public, and that it does not have catastrophic legal and economic consequences. Anything less is a betrayal of the opposition's role and function and of the working people Labour is supposed to represent.

You can have all manner of Brexits. Corbyn's Brexit is a relinquishing of duty tantamount to the encouragement of a Tory Brexit. Smith’s Brexit ensures that, if it happens, it will happen in a tolerable and responsible way.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

The Brexit surrender: Labour waves the white flag

Chuka Umunna is heading up one of those listening exercises where politicians pretend to care what the public think following an unsettling political event. Today, the MP for Streatham, which recorded one of the highest Remain votes in the country (79.28%), visits Boston, which had the highest Leave vote (76.5%), to find out people's concerns about immigration.

All very commendable. But ahead of the trip, Umunna said something remarkable.

"A few weeks ago, the British people rejected freedom of movement. Politicians from all sides have to accept that reality, and design a brand new immigration system that works and which reflects people's concerns."

What is he talking about? And why do Labour - more even than the Tories - seem intent on making sure we undergo a hard Brexit rather than a soft one?

Even before the referendum vote, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson was demanding reform of freedom of movement. Days after it, John McDonnell seemed to imply freedom of movement needed to end, although he later clarified this as a statement of fact rather than Labour policy. The original statement and his later clarification are both false, under either interpretation. Jeremy Corbyn's demand that we trigger Article 50 the day after the vote - a statement he now says he regrets, when not pretending that he never made it - makes a hard Brexit more likely, as has his evident indifference to the result or its aftermath.

Labour MPs need to be clear on something. The British people did not reject freedom of movement. They rejected the EU.

Voting to leave the EU does not necessarily mean you voted to reject freedom of movement. Many of the people who voted were motivated by questions of sovereignty, others by how much money we send to the EU. Others, we suspect, had a more emotive requirement of giving the establishment a kicking.

If opponents of freedom of movement wanted to end it, they should have held a referendum on our membership of the single market. It's a requirement of the single market that you sign up to freedom of movement, so that's the way to do it. But they didn't. They held a referendum on leaving the EU, which does not neccesarily entail leaving the single market. They can't hold a referendum on one thing and then claim it was about something else.

There is no mandate to leave the single market. In fact, when pollsters ask whether it is more important to stay in the single market or reduce immigration, as British negotiators will soon be asked by their European counterparts, voters opt strongly for the former.

Europe is still outraged by the Brexit vote, but there are encouraging noises about a deal involving a seven-year pause on freedom of movement. If those types of options were on the table we'd do well to take them. Leaving the single market would be a catastrophic event for this country. It would be economically devastating. We just don't have the time to make the trade deals we require in the time scale the Article 50 process offers us. And it would be democratically very dangerous. With huge economic and political pressure for trade deals we'd be incentivised to accept any offer countries like India or China or the US offer us, meaning we'd suddenly be signing away our laws on chemical standards, or data privacy, or workers' rights or any other number of issues without a Commons vote or proper scrutiny. So much for sovereignty.

But that is exactly what these Labour figures are encouraging by helping consolidate the notion that maintaining freedom of movement is absolutely off the table.

By making these statements, they strengthen the hand of the hard Brexiters - the right-wingers in the Tory party and outside it who will brand any sane, economically-literate response to the vote as a betrayal of the electorate. The notion of a seven year pause on freedom of movement is appalling to them, as are guarantees of movement on condition of a job offer. Nothing short of full and complete separation will satisfy them.

And what do Labour figures believe these backbench Tories and Ukip campaigners will do then? Create a fair and equitable British economy in which reduced labour from eastern Europe translates to higher domestic wages and industrial investment? Hardly. They will be pushing for reduced tariffs regulations, opening up British manufacturing to cheap Chinese imports and driving down subsidies. It'll be the rewriting of Britain along harsh Asian economic lines. This is the grand right-wing project which lies behind the Brexit narrative: a fundamentalist free market economy, with severe gaps between rich and poor, all done in a mad rush with little-to-no democratic scrutiny.

Mercifully, the people in charge of Brexit don't know what they're doing. As so often in British history, we are saved from disaster by the hapless inertia of the ruling class. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit minister David Davis and trade minister Liam Fox are at war with each other over turf, in the little tragi-comedy flat share the latter two have with Boris Johnson in Chevening House. Their own utterances frequently contradict what they themselves said the day before, or what their colleagues are saying today, or the basic rules of how the single market operates. They clearly have no idea what they are doing. They are black-and-white people in a grey world.

May is aware of the consequences of single market exit and what it would mean for how she is treated in the history books. She's spoken out against freedom of movement, but there is always nuance there. When announcing her bid for Tory leader, she said it was not acceptable "as it has worked to date". There's plainly scope there for compromise.

At some point, Brexit will probably happen. Before that, there will probably be a parliamentary vote, before that a deal, before that a negotiation and before that a plan. At the moment, we are at the pre-plan stage. This is where the prime minister takes stock of the political pressures on her before trying to accommodate them alongside the economic realities she faces. 

It's at this moment that political pressure from those who believe in freedom of movement is essential. There is everything still to play for. Anyone who wants it to continue should make as much noise as possible about it. Anyone who wants the UK to stay in the single market should be singing it from the rooftops. Because it is only when the political consequences of leaving match the cries of betrayal from the hard Brexit lot that the prime minister will be incentivised to adopt a more moderate approach.

Instead, Labour figures seem intent on collaborating with hard Brexiters and consolidating the political consensus against freedom of movement. They are helping to create the political conditions which will push us out of the single market. Instead of fighting for the British national interest, they're lending a helping hand to the most dangerous right-wing plot in a generation. Defeatism on the left is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

Labour leadership fight reaches new low as Corbyn and Smith say they’d negotiate with Isis

This morning's BBC debate for the Labour leadership provided a startling example of how catastrophically stupid the anti-war left has become. We already knew that neither Owen Smith nor Jeremy Corbyn want to fight Isis. They voted against bombing. But we didn’t know they actually want to negotiate with it. Smith even seems to want them directly around the negotiating table.

Here’s the full transcript, from the BBC debate:

Victoria Derbyshire: Would you sit down with Assad, would you sit down with members of so-called Islamic State?

Corbyn: There has to be a political process. There already is a political process being conducted through the Geneva talks. That does involve yes, negotiations that involve the Assad regime, that’s obvious. It also, I suspect, brings in some kind of proximity talks or whatever. Owen and I both voted against the bombing of Syria because what we couldn’t see was any credible use of it or value to it, because what was then going to happen was there’s a plethora of people that are opposed to Assad, including the al-Nusra Brigade who are very close to al-Qaeda. I think that we have to support a serious political process and that serious political process has got to be redoubled.

VD: Would this process involve anyone from so-called Islamic State, yes or no?

JC: No, they’re not going to be around the table, no.

Owen Smith: My record is I’m someone who worked on the peace process in Northern Ireland for three years. I was part of the UK’s negotiating team which helped bring together the loyalist paramilitaries and the DUP in particular into the process alongside Sinn Fein. My view is that ultimately all solutions to these crises, these sorts of international crises, do come about through dialogue. So eventually if we're to try and solve this all of the actors have to be involved. But at the moment Isil are clearly not interested in negotiating. At some point for us to resolve this we will need to get people around the table.

The first thing to note is that Smith is considerably more insane than Corbyn on this issue, in that he seems to envisage actually having Isis around the table. Corbyn opts instead for ‘proximity talks’, which is bad enough, but he does at least rule that out.

These are the people they want to negotiate with. Isis tried to commit genocide against the Yazidi. They execute people for refusing to fast, for blasphemy, sorcery, sodomy, or practicing as a Shia Muslim. They torture people, crucify them, bury them alive, use them as suicide bombers, and sell them as sex slaves. They turn execution into entertainment - drowning their victims in cages, blowing their heads off with explosives and burning them alive in a car hit with a rocket launcher. They crammed 600 men into trucks in Tikrit and slaughtered them. There are other massacres on this scale.

What would Smith and Corbyn give Isis in these talks? How many women would they allow them to turn into sex slaves? Which groups would they let them commit genocide against? How many opponents would they be allowed to boil in tar? How many gay people would they be able to throw off buildings?

This is not Northern Ireland. They’re not, as one commentator said on Twitter today, a Muslim IRA. Isis cannot be reasoned with. There is no political dimension to their agenda. There is no sanity there to negotiate with. They are a millennialist death cult for whom anything less than full compliance with a fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam is punishable by death.

This weekend, Manbij was liberated by Kurdish ground troops supported by western air power. The women kept as sex slaves were freed. The people could dance, and cut their beards, and smoke. They celebrated in the street, a look of astonishment and joy on their face. And that was not done by hand-wringing in the West, or talk of ‘getting around the table' with murderous lunatics. It was done by killing them. That is the only solution to the Isis problem.

The left used to understand this. In the Spanish civil war, Republican fighters knew that if they could kill rabbits, they could kill fascists. But those days are long gone. On the left, that sentiment has been replaced by a visceral and instinctive hatred of the West. Many modern socialists are apparently content to allow people in faraway lands to be turned into slaves by fascist tyrants rather than support the fight against them. The British volunteers of the International Brigades would be turning in their graves.

Update 13:52: Jeremy Corbyn's camp has been quick to try to revise down his coments after the debate ended. They put out a statement saying:

"Jeremy has always argued that there must be a negotiated political solution to the war in Syria and the wider Middle East, and that maintaining lines of communication during conflicts is essential. But Isis cannot be part of those negotiations. Instead, its sources of funding and supplies must be cut off. Owen Smith’s comments were hasty and ill-considered."

It goes without saying that the Labour leader's army of supporters online are putting the best possible spin on his comments and insisting he explicitely ruled out talks with Isis. This isn't quite right. He ruled out Isis being "around the table", which is consistent with his demand for "proximity talks" above. Some have suggested the proximity reference is to other actors or even to Assad. It clearly isn't the latter - why would you hold indirect talks with the ruler of the country? - but given that the point on other actors was made in a seperate argument, it doesn't seem to be the former either. There are other interpretations, but the most obvious one is that he was proposing proxy talks with the terror group.

There's a little more context to Corbyn's belief in back-channel communications with Isis in this article from earlier this year,, where he compared doing so with similar efforts with the IRA and the Taliban.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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