Thornberry’s leaked letter misrepresented by media – but gets Labour policy wrong

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s letter to Labour MPs tells MPs any deal must be tied to a new referendum and that this is Labour policy. It’s wrong – but has also been misrepresented
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry

Emily Thornberry’s letter to Labour MPs today about the prospect of any outcome of the Brexit discussions between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May has leaked into the media.

Much has been made of it by the Establishment media and by supporters of another referendum – but in doing so they have misrepresented it as a pronouncement, rather than the indication of Ms Thornberry’s opinion and ‘voting intention’, which she explicitly said it was.

The letter, which Thornberry sent when she was unable to attend an emergency Shadow Cabinet meeting, told MPs that if she had been able to attend the meeting:

What I would have said is that if we look like reaching any other decision than confirmatory vote that would be in breach of the decision made unanimously by Conference in Liverpool and overwhelmingly supported by our members and it needs to be put to a vote‎ by the Shadow Cabinet…

…can I – in writing – confirm that my votes are that any deal agreed by Parliament must be subject to a confirmatory public vote, and yes, the other option on the ballot must be Remain.

In other words – and in perfectly plain English – Ms Thornberry was expressing her opinion and how she would vote to proceed if there were such a vote.

However, the letter mis-states Labour’s conference policy – which is emphatically not that any deal must be put to any kind of ‘confirmatory public vote’.

Labour’s conference policy on Brexit is quite clear: Labour will honour the referendum result, but will do whatever it takes to prevent an exit based on Theresa May’s disastrous ‘deal’ and to prevent a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. In order to achieve those ends, it will keep all options open – including the option of another referendum.

A referendum is therefore a measure of last resort – and not Labour’s policy as long as another way can be found to prevent the Tory disaster scenarios.

Not only that, but the sequence of events outlined in Labour’s policy was reset by both the recent, repeated defeats of any ‘public vote’ motions in Parliament. There is no will in Parliament for a new referendum – but there is increasing will for a new general election to solve May’s Brexit chaos.

Delegates who participated in making Labour’s conference policy already made clear what that policy is – and it’s not what Ms Thornberry’s letter claimed. Last December, when misleading versions of the policy were being pushed by supporters of a new referendum, those delegates published an open letter putting the record straight.

They explained, very clearly:

We should be clear about the content passed at conference. It stated that, should Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement fail to meet the six tests Labour has set out, Labour will vote against it and Jeremy Corbyn has been perfectly clear about this.

At that point, if the government cannot get its own deal through parliament, it would be in the best interests of the country to serve a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and trigger an immediate general election…

…The composite did not gainsay our commitment to respecting the outcome of the first referendum. Nor did it insist that we try to “stop Brexit”. It simply pledged us to fight for the general election that we so desperately need. In absence of this, all options remain on the table.

We should therefore not be distracted from our key task, which is a Labour government that delivers for the many and not the few.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

May’s deal does not meet Labour’s tests – and Labour remains committed to defeating it.

But in the event that some other, better deal becomes possible as a result of Corbyn’s discussions with May that does pass Labour’s tests, then the conference policy that Emily Thornberry referred to is still to respect the referendum result and proceed with the UK’s exit from the EU.

The ‘indicative votes’ in Parliament this week show a clear direction of travel toward the customs union and alignment that Labour has proposed – and which the EU has made clear it would welcome in a heartbeat.

That makes Emily Thornberry’s letter wrong in her assumption of what Labour’s policy is – but not as far from correct as the media’s misrepresentation would lead people to believe.

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  1. However, the letter mis-states Labour’s conference policy – which is emphatically not that any deal must be put to any kind of ‘confirmatory public vote’.”</blockquote

    Good luck with trying to convince people that Labour is not being disingenuous and cowardly if they don't insist on a ratification vote for any deal by any government. MSM would attack JC relentlessly and it is difficult to see a legitimate defence to this.

    What the composite motion actually says is
    “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.

  2. Skwarwky, we know you are a Leaver at all costs and do not want the membership or the public to have a say on any deal which has been negotiated between May and Corbyn but you are totally at odds with the membership and Labour voters. It is imperative that ANY deal, no matter what, is subject to the final approval of the public.

  3. However, the letter mis-states Labour’s conference policy – which is emphatically not that any deal must be put to any kind of ‘confirmatory public vote’.”

    Good luck with trying to convince people that Labour is not being disingenuous and cowardly if they don’t insist on a ratification vote for any deal by any government. MSM would attack JC relentlessly and it is difficult to see a legitimate defence to this.

    What the composite motion actually says is
    “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.

  4. So Emily Thornberry wrote a letter in which she incorrectly stated that Labour’s policy is to have a confirmatory vote, and Clive Lewis and eleven other Labour MPs wrote a letter to Jeremy Corbyn incorrectly stating that “Labour’s democratically established policy, passed at party conference in September 2018, is to oppose a Brexit deal which does not meet Labour’s six tests and put any deal that does to a public vote” – so they are claiming that the party’s position is that even if a deal meets Labour’s six tests it would still go to a public vote.
    It would be stretching credulity to think that the writers of the two letters independently came to the same wrong opinion about Labour policy. So it looks like an attempt to rewrite Labour policy by a small section of Labour MPs, which is worrying.
    Tom Watson got slapped down by the NEC for similar distortions of Labour’s position and that looks to have turned into an epidemic.

    Link to the Clive Lewis letter: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jeremy-corbyn-theresa-may-talks-brexit-referendum-labour-mps-public-vote-a8853311.html

      1. There’s nothing in there about Labour supporting a second vote, if their six tests are met, with Remain as an option.

  5. SB needs to decide and declare which is sovereign – parliament or the people?

    1. The Labour Party’s membership and voters have made up their minds

      “Some 83% of Labour members we surveyed voted Remain in 2016 – a much higher proportion, incidentally, than the 60% of 2017 Labour voters who did the same. And it is clear, firstly, that the vast majority of those members have no regrets about doing so and, secondly, that they would do so again in another referendum – something that they want the party and its leader, Mr Corbyn, to endorse. It’s also clear that if he doesn’t, then a fair few of them would consider leaving the party.
      Some 73% of current Labour voters think – in hindsight and irrespective of what they themselves voted in 2016 – that the UK was wrong to vote to leave the EU. That proportion rises to 89% among Labour members – and is a view shared, too, by 31% of the small minority of members who did vote Leave in the Referendum.


      1. But there is a deep split in those labour voters. The 6 million petition is broken down into constituencies on the livefrombrexit website. Top 30 constituencies are nearly all labour seats, just a couple of tory ones…..and it’s the same with the bottom 30. No easy solution

      2. If that load of cobblers had an ounce of truth in it, Labour party policy would be crystal clear and Labour would be a remain party like the LibDems and Greens. And Corbyn would be preaching remain from the rooftops. Love Corbyn hate Brexit my arse!
        It’s like Simon says, constituencies are strongly in favour of leave and the constituencies Labour needs to capture in order to win a general election are predominantly leave.
        You only speak for the metropolitan middle class Labour members/supporters, not the constituency parties. Your political ideology also differs from the rest of Labour voters, we don’t give a toss about identity politics and see it for the distraction it is.

      3. I think that translates as “Waaah! Waaah! Waaah!

        … the usual cry of those who hate the idea of testing their assumptions about ‘democracy’.

      4. From a sample size of 1034 Labour Party members around 850 said they want a Second referendum . So when you say 80% of the membership you mean 80% of 1034 members . I suspect they choose well and selected centrist fans .Also at that time the peoples vote campaign had not been exposed as a sham and Mandy Cable Bliar Lucas and the MSM in its entirety had not revealed their involvement . Many people who voted to remain honour the democratic decision and defend the ordinary people who voted leave against the abuse from this sordid campaign group

      5. @Lundiel You are correct. It was the poor and have nots that put Labour so close to victory. And they are already being shown that the votes were wasted.

        After all, constantly hearing “We need a second referendum” says loudly “Your votes do not count!”

        @RH if anyone is saying “Waah waah waah”, it’s remainers like yourself. You’re destroying democracy, and you will get more unpleasant surprises due to your desire to subvert a choice made democratically

      6. The delusions are immense in these fake ‘class’ analyses that try to apply 19th Century definitions of social and occupational structure to the present – with ludicrous results..

        The Labour Party is dependent on milllions of votes from middling occupations. The majority of Labour voters in *every* occupational class voted ‘Remain’.

        Wittering on mindlessly in a dilettante way about ‘THE working class’ doesn’t have anything to do with socialism – or much else,. in reality. It’s just fictional posturing.

        Considering a major portion of Labour voters as ” the metropolitan middle class” is plainly dim – an attempt to short-circuit debate by aping the class tropes of the 5% in a reverse form.

        … and anyone who thinks that constituency parties are simply full of sons of manual toil has obviously left the actual world a long time ago.

        … apart from the fact that if “constituencies are strongly in favour of leave”, it would be a woeful signal of how dysfunctional and detached constituency parties had become from Labour voters.

        AS to the assertion :

        ” It was the poor and have nots that put Labour so close to victory.”

        Simply. It wasn’t. The Labour Party is a coalition across cultural divides. Always was. Without votes from the median area of the social scale (however defined) Labour will have absolutely no chance of power.

        Reverse class prejudice isn’t politics. It’s fiction.

      7. P.S “Never voting labour again” – Orwell would have loved the perversion of thought and language that makes a democratic act ‘anti-democratic’.

        He had a way of demolishing such contradictory and illogical nonsense from pseuds pretending to being ‘for the people’.

      8. Dear old RH. We all know that before the referendum both Corbyn and May promised to honour the result. We also know that post referendum European negotiators have been using delaying tactics and during this time millions have been spent with the sole purpose of changing people’s minds. The most ludicrous bit of the very expensive and well financed campaign is the second referendum campaign. The idea that you/they can go around telling people that “anyone can change their mind” is beyond abusive, particularly when one side of the negotiations were being disrupted from the start.
        I hold the middle class in particular contempt, they were the people I saw marching under the second ref banner and they knew exactly that their actions were undermining British democracy…some of them carried placards extolling Europeans like Macron and Merkle and many had ones asking “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” when they knew full well no serious politician could back the tawdry marketing campaign that was ref2.
        Most people don’t want a second referendum, while some will have changed their minds on how they voted, most people just want it done with. They don’t want another extension and they don’t want MPs acting independently of party. They want to get on with running the economy and tackling social injustice.

      9. lundiel 04/04/2019 at 2:49 pm

        European negotiators have been using delaying tactics

        Have they?
        Do you have any actual evidence to support your latest assertion, or is this another thought that you’ve randomly plucked out of nowhere.

      10. “I hold the middle class in particular contempt”

        … which condemns you oput of your own mouth, I’m afraid, lundiel. Turning idiot generalised class tropes on their head reflects the same mentality as their opposite.

        It’s as daft a statement as “The working class is contemptably thick and voted for Brexit.” … and it’s all based on ‘Socialism for *Real* Dummies’ – not political thought or any perception of the real world. It’s just resentment dressed up.

      11. Lundiel, my point wasn’t necessarily that Labour need to concentrate on leave voting seats. Big and small majorities in both strong remain and leave seats. It was much more that the spread of views for labour is much more extreme than for the Tories. The leadership is going to lose support from one side or another, whatever it does. And end up getting blamed for a tory created problem.

  6. Emily isn’t very good on Foreign Policy either.
    Corbyn has an almost impossible hand to play, given that he is surrounded by people with wafer thin loyalty, which breaks down continuously.
    How many MPs are there who can be relied upon? Twenty? Thirty? Not that many?

    1. Which is why the anti-Corbyn machinery at the heart of the Party suspended Chris Williamson and why he should be unsuspended without delay.

  7. It matters not, what is or isn’t Labour’s policy on the approval of a final deal. The ONLY democratic course of action is to give the public the last word.

  8. Seems maybe members (if those quoted above are true) are out of synch with the country at large

    No Deal vs Remain by region:

    No deal 50%
    Remain 40%

    No deal 49%
    Remain 38%

    No deal 45%
    Remain 40%

    No deal 30%
    Remain 54%

    YouGov Apr 1

    1. After going to all that effort it’s rather surprising that you didn’t quote the actual question that the figures refer to or provide a link to the actual poll you are quoting from. I wonder why.
      Perhaps you could rectify this so that we can see the data you quote in context.

      As for the accuracy of the figures quoted above unlike you I provided a link to a long term academic research paper so that others could verify it for themselves and view the data in context.

  9. The full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to all Labour MPs following his meeting with TM.

    “Dear colleague,
    I held a meeting this afternoon with the Prime Minister, government ministers and officials.
    I was accompanied by Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Nick Brown, and staff.
    The government said they were keen to to find common ground and reach an agreement with us.
    We have had constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock.
    We have agreed a programme of work between our teams to explore the scope for agreement, but no commitments have been made.
    We raised the benefits of a customs union and close alignment to the single market with dynamic alignment on rights, protections and standards.
    It was agreed there would further technical discussions on a customs union and close single market alignment. The civil service will be made available to us to support those discussions.
    It was agreed that the Chief Whips would meet to consider a timetable for a Withdrawal Agreement – with no commitment to support it.
    There was also discussion on what sort of legislative lock could be used to enforce any agreed changes.
    I also raised the prospect of a confirmatory vote. The Prime Minister remained resistant to this proposal.
    We will meet further in the coming days, and I will continue to update the PLP.
    Jeremy Corbyn
    Leader of the Opposition

  10. Just a little more proof that a vote for Labour is utterly wasted.

  11. I feel that Corbyn has got an incredibly difficult job to do with these tight rope negotiations and dealing with the duplicitous lying May .
    He should at least expect the support of the Left wing MPs at this time and be left to get on with those negotiations . He knows what people want he’s not stupid and his tactics IMO have worked well in grinding the Tories down and forcing them to the table.
    His negotiating position is not strengthened by demands for conditions to be met before there has been any real progress with May. At present there appears to be , unsurprisingly , none . She appears not willing to move on anything as yet and as far as I am concerned is not sincere in her call for talks .
    To me it shows the political immaturity of those MPs who have and are using the situation to try and force through their desire for another Ref with remain on the vote . They could have just as easily gone en mass to Corbyn and put their demands in person , written privately, emailed , texted you name it BUT , writing an open letter is indicative of unnecessary and damaging arm twisting .
    It will no doubt come , but now IMO is not the time to be demanding this at the early stages of negotiations , lets see just what , if anything , May is actually offering to start with and then go from there.

    TBH I expect the talks to collapse in any case , as it becomes clear that May is using them simply as another vehicle to bludgeon her MPs ( look I am talking to the enemy !! ) to get her shit deal through .
    The next few days will be the proof of that one way or another .

  12. I never trust fair weather socialist ET, I remember her feeling the need to unnecessarily (in my view) attack Venezeula in a Conference speech.
    4 options should be put to Parliament:
    1. May’s Deal.
    2. Customs Union Deal.
    3. No Deal.
    4. 2nd Refererendum/Confirmatory Public Vote.
    I would vote for no 2 and oppose the rest and as Abba sang: “The Winnner Takes it All!”
    JC is keeping his cool as the clock ticks.

  13. There is no rational argument against a second referendum.

    It is clear that asking the people what they want is not “betraying the people”.

    Those arguing against a second referendum are doing so merely because they want to leave and are afraid that the electorate might have changed their minds…

    1. No rational arguement?!?!

      So, let’s use bloody football to prove you wrong.

      Let’s take Manchester United and their two recent losses. Should the games be replayed? Should the results stand?

      And before you counter with “It’s irrelevant”, it certainly isn’t to ManU fans, is it?

      I didn’t like the results of 6 or so general elections since my birth, can we re-run those also?

      To finish, I think you should retake you driving test, because the results were wrong. After all, it’s just to be safe

      1. Doh!

        “Should the games be replayed?”

        They are. Different season. Different results. Differnt table.


        “I didn’t like the results of 6 or so general elections since my birth, can we re-run those also?”

        Out of the mouths … etc. Why do you think that you can cite ‘6’ different elections.

        And ‘Doh!’ again

        A referendum on a constitutional issue is also very different from a periodic general election, because it has irreversible consequences. In this case, once the UK has lost its current position vis-a-vis the EU, it can’t regain its concessions.

  14. “There is no rational argument against a second referendum.”

    Yes. The only real arguments are about practical issues – and a fear of the extreme right. There are no principled arguments – the last referendum destroyed any such.

    Earlier, K C Gordon commented “SB needs to decide and declare which is sovereign – parliament or the people?”

    Errr … no …. on this is all parliamentary parties have ceded the issue. The ‘honour the referendum’ crap has ceded power to the people. The only logic is to see this through by a confirmatory referendum. The whole shoddy business has been surrounded by a policy of cakeism that dresses up sectional interest as principle.

    It is fascinating how 6 million people can be ignored as an irelevancy, whilst less than a million (the swing necessary for the 37% minority vote to be claimed as a ‘victory’) is considered as a ‘final’ judgement. Nonsense on stilts.

    The one certain conclusion to be drawn from the descent of the country into a second-rate bad joke is that we should never have got here. Which we have by virtue of an extreme right-wing faction within the Tory Party and blunders by our opposition that got sucked into faulty presumptions and has consequently been dragged into the Tory mire.

    The only way out is by reconsideration (not a certain outcome, but the only rational course). Everything else is de facto an automatic defeat for the majority of Labour voters.

    1. There was no public outcry over holding a referendum, it had to happen sometime given how the EU had changed out of all recognition. If the EU was a democratic body, every country would have had a referendum over implementing the Maastricht treaty. The reality was the EU made those countries that did, have another one. It may have been expedient for the Tories to call the referendum but their problems with their own right wing aren’t the reason for people’s dissatisfaction with membership of the EU….we’ve been on the edge ever since we joined and if those polls you love to quote were about how much we pay, the fishing policy, farmers rebates, European law trumping our own, competition policy, etc, etc, it would be very different. And I’m incredulous that you don’t even seem to realise it. Imagine if we stay in….Everyone knows how much we pay now, you would find them a lot less forgiving. And MEPs would be elected on condition of questioning everything, there’d be no more gravy train for the likes of Kinnock and family……And the EU would be sick of us and laws wouldn’t get passed, because British Euro phobia would multiply.

      1. lundiel 04/04/2019 at 3:26 pm

        holding a [ratifying] referendum, it [has] to happen given how [Brexit] had changed out of all recognition

      2. Indeed. The contortions that Leave ‘democrats’ are going through in order to keep their minority referendum non-result (compare with the 1970s – it should have bettered that) would be amusing if the issue wasn’t so serious.

        The faction condemns itself out of its own mouth in terms of the ability to assess an argument in rational terms – confirming the morass of incomprehension that ‘Leave’ is founded on.

  15. As far as JC is concerned the approach he’s making is the right one. I for one totally agree.
    No point in guessing, he will keep us all abreast of the position he’s pursuing to get a deal that brings us all together, not just those who are pursuing the no deal option!
    Which as we all know failed by one vote!
    What is the point of arguing over a meeting that no one knows what the end result will be!
    Everything that’s happening at this present time has to be allowed to continue until agreement or no agreement!
    Pundits, reporters and the MSM along with all the Right wing have got as much of a clue as the man in the moon!

  16. Well said, Shwawkbox. I see the usual tiny , three or four person , grouplet of uncritical pro EU Trolls are busy on this tread today , trying to also misrepresent the meaning of our 2018 Conference Brexit motion – again. Methinks Emily Thornberry didn’t make a “mistake” in her incorrect statement of Labour policy in her conveniently “leaked” letter. This is Thornberry’s cynical starting bid to replace Jeremy as Leader by winning over the gullible uncritical pro EU Left Liberals in our Party .As a Delegate I watched her utterly calculating speech at Conference with growing contempt – aimed purely at maximising the number of rounds of applause , rather than having any real content. Thornberry is no socialist of any sort – but as a very able public speaker, and woman, she is a front runner to eventually replace Jeremy – which would be a massive step back for our Party as a Left-leaning movement. Hopefully her treachery with her letter will alert the more gullible members to her self-serving purpose and untrustworthiness .

    1. jpenney 04/04/2019 at 4:49 pm

      Will you be casting your vote in the EU elections?

      The NEC has agreed a timetable for selecting candidates for the EU MEP elections

      Deadline for applications – 10th April,
      Short listing – 11th and 12th April
      Candidate Interviews – 15th and 16th April
      Selection and endorsement – 17th April

    2. jpenney 04/04/2019 at 4:49 pm · · Reply →

      Trying to also misrepresent the meaning of our 2018 Conference Brexit motion – again

      That’s a bit rich coming from someone who misquoted from the Composite Motion with the deliberate intention of falsely proselytising his minority view.

      Could you explain how quoting motions in full and providing links to the full text of the Composite Motion so that people can inform themselves and make up their own minds can be construed as an attempt to deceive.

    3. Calling those you disagree with Trolls and saying they aren’t really socialists isn’t a particularly good argument or way of convincing others of the strength of your case, is it?

    4. Socialist or not what concerns me is her association with the L.F.I .
      BY the time JC comes up for replacement one hopes that perhaps CHris Williamson or some similar figure will be ready to step up to the challenge . CHirs I feel has still some way to go for experience but there is time .Thats if he isn’t expelled !

      1. I wouldn’t pin that one on Thornberry particularly.

        The sad thing is that LfI has been assumed to be a badge of ‘correct’ thinking – and thus a lot of MPs have signed up without much thought at all. It’s classic virtue signalling – who could not oppose the holocaust?

        It’s relatively recently that the true nature of Israel and LfI has actually become an issue and has connected with the repression of Palestinians. I’m not excusing the lack of thought – but it reflects the way information has been generally distorted.

  17. There is a fact that ties together those opposing a further referendum (apart from illogicality) – they hold on fervently to the past. A past that has gone.

    It ties in with another feature – a ‘socialism’ that parrots misunderstood notions of society gleaned from the 19th century. A mickey-mouse Marxism.

    It’s a strand that unites them with the ERG, who love the 18th century as a model.

  18. Just Semantics Skwawkbox. Option on the table even if it is only as a last resort, is Party Policy. It was pushed through by Keir Starmer with Momentum backing, and was overwhelmingly voted for by delegates. I have always believed that a Referendum, would increase violence but it hardly matters, as the country seems poised for civil war anyway even without a Referendum -in the language of Mark Francois, in the fascists who were on the Brexit gathering on 29th March, and threats in the House from other Tories. The Brexiit side is far far nastier.

    1. Poetry, some of the Brexit side is nastier, specifically the overt racists and the Tory no deal/screw the country so we can have free trade extremists. But that’s very different to Lexiters who voted leave because they think the EU is too capitalist and will constrain socialist policies if the Labour Party gain power. I disagree with them that that is a stronger argument than remaining, but it’s a valid and reasoned argument and I respect those making it. I wouldn’t remain subscribed if I didn’t.
      Leave or remain we have to live together.

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