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
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.
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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