Brexit Bulletin: Why Labour’s Muddle Matters

Adam Blenford
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Brexit Bulletin: Why Labour’s Muddle Matters

Brexit is 38 days away.

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Today in Brexit: Labour gets ready for an election, but it’s still fighting about Britain’s EU withdrawal after all this time.

What’s Happening? The Labour Party, Britain’s official opposition, wants to oversee an “irreversible shift in wealth and power to working people,” according to treasury spokesman John McDonnell. But Labour has spent so much time since the 2016 EU referendum arguing over Brexit that deep splits now risk undermining that mission, Bloomberg’s Jessica Shankleman reports from the party’s annual conference in Brighton.

With the Oct. 31 exit deadline looming and a general election on the horizon, any plan that conference delegates approve today is likely to be the one it puts to the public. In 2017, Labour fought Theresa May’s snap general election with a manifesto that pledged to respect the referendum result. A 2019 election platform will need sharper language and more clarity of purpose.

Grand plans to help “the people against the super-rich” — as leader Jeremy Corbyn put it on Sunday night — are being laid out at this week’s event. After a radical pledge to effectively abolish private schools, today McDonnell will announce multibillion-pound plans for guaranteed free adult social care.

On Brexit, though, caution reigns supreme. Corbyn now embraces a new referendum on any eventual deal, but on Sunday batted away multiple attempts by the BBC’s Andrew Marr to get him to commit to “Remain” or “Leave.” He wants to hold a “special conference” to decide on Labour’s position.

Divisions are seriously straining the party. An attempt to oust pro-Remain deputy leader Tom Watson was defused over the weekend. But shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, another vocal Remainer, warned her boss that Labour could lose 30% of its Remain vote at an upcoming election unless it unequivocally backs staying in the bloc. From the Tory side, Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy declares today that Labour is “peddling a lie” and is preparing to overturn the referendum result.

Labour’s ongoing Brexit rows have often animated the party faithful but rarely resonated with the wider public. The latest bout of schizophrenia could well influence the shape of Brexit, and of the next British government.

Today’s Must-Reads

Ahead of a crucial ruling on Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, Bloomberg’s Franz Wild takes a look at how the U.K. Supreme Court is reshaping the way the judiciary interacts with politics. Watch out today for more news on when the court will rule. All roads lead to London, John Authers writes for Bloomberg Opinion, arguing that the city remains the place where the many problems and imbalances afflicting the financial world today will ultimately be sorted out. The Liberal Democrats may have made a strategic error by promising to cancel Brexit, Leave advocate Douglas Carswell writes in the Telegraph.

Brexit in Brief

Diplomat-in-Chief | Boris Johnson will start a week of intense diplomacy today as he tries to push for a Brexit deal on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Johnson plans to meet the leaders of Germany, France and Ireland, plus EU President Donald Tusk, as he bids to strike a revised deal before time runs out.

Your Fault | European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s pre-recorded interview with Sky News made news on Friday before doing the same when finally broadcast on Sunday. Brexit would mean a hard border on the island of Ireland, Juncker said, before absolving the bloc of any blame. “The EU is in no way responsible for any kind of consequences entailed by Brexit,” he said. “That’s a British decision, a sovereign decision that we are respecting.”

Carmakers Worried | Automakers believe that leaving the EU without a deal would have “an immediate and devastating impact” for their industry, “undermining competitiveness and causing irreversible and severe damage,” according to Mike Hawes, chief executive of the U.K.’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Not Just Labour | The Tories also face electoral collapse if they get Brexit wrong, with their danger being failure to deliver the withdrawal they have promised, no-deal Brexit czar Michael Gove warned in the Sunday Times.

Expat Concerns | British residents protested on the streets of Malaga in southern Spain on Sunday against what they see as their uncertain future after Brexit. Reports said “dozens” took part in the march, with many expressing concerns about healthcare rights. The Guardian reports this morning that the U.K. has pledged £150 million ($187 million) to cover healthcare costs for six months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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