This Brexit deal is going to be the most important piece of legislation seen in Britain for generations. This deal will impact the country for decades and it is of vital importance we get this deal right – otherwise the consequences could damage this country in the long term.
It’s very clear that Theresa May’s deal is completely, and wholeheartedly, unacceptable. A Labour government negotiating a deal (with Labour’s 6 tests) would be a lot better for the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Labour Party conference concluded that ‘all options were on the table’ when it comes to Brexit and bringing down this Conservative government. But what could these options be?
Number 1: Vote of no confidence in the government leading to a general election
If the Conservatives fail to get their version of Brexit past Parliament (which is extremely unlikely – you can attempt to do it by clicking here) then it’ll show that this government is not fit for purpose. This deal is central to the government’s aims and ambitions and a rejection from Parliament would show that the government does not command their support and therefore a motion of no confidence should be called. If the numbers are there to reject the Brexit deal, then they can potentially be there to ensure a vote of no confidence is passed in the government (particularly if the DUP fully jump ship).
If there is a vote of no confidence, the Conservatives have just 14 days to form an alternative government. If they fail to do this, then a general election will be called.
Number 2: Labour attempt to form a minority government
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has floated the idea around that if Theresa May fails to get her Brexit deal through Parliament then Labour should attempt to form a minority government.
The Parliamentary arithmetic may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to imagine a situation where Labour can get the numbers in place – especially if the DUP abandon the Conservative Party. We could either attempt to bring a new Brexit deal to the table immediately in order to unite Parliament or seek a fresh mandate via a general election with 2/3rds of MPs in Parliament voting for it. The Conservatives in government may refuse to budge but if they were in opposition, even for a short time due to the Parliamentary arithmetic, then they could go for it.
Number 3: Pressure Parliament to pursue the extension of Article 50
It seems there is no Parliamentary majority for the government’s Brexit deal – nor is there a Parliamentary majority for a no deal Brexit. However, there may be a majority in Parliament to ask the European Union to extend Article 50, asking for more time to be given for negotiations. This may not seem like an action which could bring down the government, however the position of ‘we are leaving the European Union in March 2019’ has been pushed strongly by Theresa May and the government consistently. This date is a clear red line for Brexiteers in her party – and if Parliament mandates the government to ask extend Article 50 (and, in this hypothetical, it is accepted by the European Union) then Theresa May either has to resign or will be ousted by the Brexit supporters in her party. This could lead to a vote of no confidence or the election of a new Conservative leader who may want to seek their own fresh mandate via an election.
Number 4: General Strike
“And if we can’t get a general election, we should organise with our brothers and sisters in the trade unions to bring the end of this government with a general strike” – Laura Smith MP
Strikes are always a last resort if all other options fail. However, desperate times may call for desperate measures. It is not the position of the Labour Party, nor the TUC, to support a general strike – however it should be an option on the table. Just imagine if the trade unions encouraged all 6.2 million unionised workers to withdrew their labour, take to the streets and demand the government stand aside to call a general election. There *would* be an election. The working class taking direct action to force an election through peaceful means should be considered if the left are unable to get the measures through Parliament.
Number 5: 2nd referendum It should only be an option because Labour conference did not rule it out (and party democracy should be respected) – but this should be the absolute last option. However, if a referendum is on the table then proponents need to think of how it is worded. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, has stated that a hypothetical referendum question should exclude the option to remain in the EU. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer disagrees, stating ‘no one is ruling out remain as an option’. The argument is that there is a Parliamentary majority for a 2nd referendum of some sorts, therefore this would mandate the Conservative government to call it which they wouldn’t want to do – so either they would hold their nose and have to go ahead with it (it would likely be the government’s deal vs no deal) or call an election on a platform of rejecting Parliament’s will for a 2nd referendum.
Those who are supportive of the idea of a 2nd EU referendum believe that a ‘people’s vote’ should be the priority. However, it should be the absolute last option to go to. A 2nd referendum would undermine faith in British democracy – it will look like an attempt by the establishment to overturn the democratic will of the people in 2016, with a backlash seen on a scale probably not seen before in British political history. 17.4 million people, with strong working class support, voted to leave the European Union with honest intentions. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that most who voted leave have changed their mind.
Two other things to note:
- Timing – the Electoral Commission’s recommendations state that there should be a 6 month window between the introduction of legislation on a referendum until it is approved (then a date set). We leave the European Union in less than 6 months – therefore a second referendum is extremely unlikely to happen.
- The question – it’s also important to note that proponents of a ‘people’s vote’ don’t even know what the question will be, whether it will a preferential ballot etc.
So, Labour have many potential options to go to when it comes to Brexit and bringing down this Conservative government. Only time will tell what happens.