I have argued in an earlier post that it is highly unlikely that Labour could get Brexit through parliament after winning an election, because the Tories will unite to oppose it, and they together with Labour Remain MPs would defeat it. The NEC recently agreed they want a People’s Vote on any Brexit that the Labour leadership disagree with. So the only way that Labour’s current policy might allow Brexit without a People’s Vote is if the Labour leadership come to some accord with Theresa May and her government.
The general expectation has been that a deal between May and the Labour leadership on Brexit is pretty unlikely. With many senior ministers focused on who will succeed May as Prime Minister, any deal with Labour is likely to see May’s cabinet collapse. The same should apply to the Labour side. The Tories are suffering because they are totally split and take the blame for not delivering Brexit. Why would Labour want to take joint ownership of this toxic project? Even if May and Corbyn could agree, the chances of any deal getting through parliament without a People’s Vote also attached are slim.
But May has nothing to lose, and unfortunately the reality as a result of Tuesday’s NEC decision is that Labour Remainers cannot trust Corbyn over Brexit. The argument before the 2017 election that Corbyn’s stance was just triangulation, or an attempt to shift the debate on to ground where Labour have an advantage, no longer holds because opinion has shifted to Remain, and a recent UCL study shows the switchers are predominantly Labour voters. The same study shows that for Labour, at least a fifth of their voters in every region say they are going to vote for a different party – and in every region defecting voters are overwhelming plumping for parties holding a definite Remain position. As Peter Kellner points out “Labour voters in Leave areas now back Remain by a margin of more than three to one.”
The excuses for Labour’s equivocation have therefore melted away. It looks more and more that Corbyn wants to avoid an unqualified commitment to a People’s Vote because he wants the path clear to do a Brexit deal with the government. That is obviously not in the interests of Remain voters. It is also a huge hit to his brand: the leader of principle who will give power back to Labour members. Remain voters' obvious response is to vote for one of the clear Remain parties. This is what seems to have happened in the local election today, and it will happen again in the elections for the European parliament.
There are two objections to Labour voters doing this. The first, and more powerful, is that seats in the European Parliament matter, and the more left leaning MEPs there are the better. If Corbyn is unsuccessful in doing a deal with the government, or if that agreement collapses, then this is a real cost. The second argument is that not voting Labour makes it more likely Farage will win the election. But as I have argued elsewhere, its votes not seats that matter in that election. Labour voters are going to keep forsaking their party as long as their commitment to People’s Vote is less than 100%.