Brexit is unlikely to happen if the Tories lose office before the UK leaves the EU

In Blog by redsocks

Both Conservative Brexiteers and Remainers would seek to thwart a soft Brexit negotiated by a Corbyn-led government.

There is more talk of a general election, although of course that does not mean it will happen. In that context, I frequently hear people say that an election would do nothing to get the country out of the huge Brexit hole it has dug itself. I strongly disagree. If there is an election before we leave the EU, and if Labour forms the next government, I think it would make a huge difference. Unless Labour win so many seats that they have a huge parliamentary majority, I think the chances are that Brexit would not happen at all.

Let us suppose that Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer manage to negotiate some form of soft Brexit with the EU. The crucial question would then be the attitude of the Conservative opposition. As a result of losing the election (if not before) they will have a new leader and, given the attitude of most Conservative members, that leader is likely to be a Brexiteer. As the Brexiteers in the current party find it hard to accept the hard Brexit proposed by Theresa May, they will almost certainly oppose any soft Brexit negotiated by Labour. Brexiteers are happiest when complaining, and so the line they will probably take on any Corbyn Brexit deal is that it has betrayed the “will of the people”.

Another reason they will oppose Labour’s soft Brexit is that they do not want the party to succeed where the Conservatives have failed. It would be the ultimate humiliation if the Tories, increasingly defined as the Brexit party, could not pass a withdrawal agreement but a Labour government could.

The Conservative Party ever more resembles the US Republican Party, with a right-wing activist base fired up by the Murdoch press and other partisan titles. The health care programme that Barack Obama successfully introduced was similar to that passed by the Republican senator and presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006. Despite this, the Republicans in opposition unequivocally rejected Obama’s reforms and fought them with all their might.

More moderate Conservative MPs might be tempted to support Labour because they themselves would be quite happy with a soft Brexit. They could quite plausibly argue that their aim should be to get Brexit over the line and leave a future Conservative government to further distance the UK from the EU. But something we have learned over the last few years is that Tory Brexit policy is strongly shaped by the Brexiteers, with the rest of the party extremely reluctant to break with this line. Furthermore, many Conservative Remainers may be happy to see Brexit fail. As a result, Corbyn cannot count on rebel Tories coming to his aid.

 

The final reason the Conservatives, and their supporters in the press, would not want to assist Labour in delivering Brexit is that they will scent the chance to embarrass the new government. There are plenty of Labour MPs, backed up by many more party members, who do not want to see Brexit at all, and might vote against any agreement. In that situation, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP might also oppose a deal. The Conservatives, still in shock after losing office, would be extremely unlikely to assist a Labour government in difficulty.

With the Tories opposing any form of soft Brexit, Corbyn’s actions will be guided by what might happen if his Brexit plans were ever put to a referendum. Labour have now said they would hold a referendum on any deal they negotiated, and they would not be allowed to backtrack on this because a combination of Tories (yes, I know, but see above), smaller parties and Labour rebels would insist it be held.