DENIS MACSHANE: The threat of no-deal is now very real - Labour must unite to end it

PUBLISHED: 13:33 05 June 2019

Pro-Brexit supporters advocate a no-deal Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament. (Yui Mok/PA)

Pro-Brexit supporters advocate a no-deal Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament. (Yui Mok/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

A new prime minister is likely to support the UK exiting the European Union without a deal. DENIS MACSHANE argues that Labour must put aside its difference on Brexit and actively campaign to see off the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

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The Brexit divisions within Labour show no sign of abating. Opponents of asking the people again like Lisa Nandy and Charlie Falconer have not been moved to change their line whatever interpretation Tom Watson or Emily Thornberry place on the defection of Labour voters to the Lib Dems and Greens in the European Parliament elections.

On one side, the proponents of the line that Brexit should not be challenged and and, in the other camp, the advocates of insisting the people have the right to a final say continue to talk past each other.

Shadow ministers, MPs, and trade unions can be found in both camps and neither is prepared to change their mind and concede to the other side.

At one level that's politics which exists to put opposing views on the nation's future to debate and a vote first within a party and then tested in an election.

But there is one area of Brexit agreement where Alistair Campbell and Ian Lavery MP might make commons cause. That is the need to mobilise every possible vote in the Commons against the new prime minister taking a unilateral executive decision to amputate Britain from Europe without any kind of an agreement.

The so-called no-deal option is now being talked up by some Tory candidates. They know it appeals to the Tory rank and file members. They have an average age of 71, are lifelong Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sun readers, and a third of them according the Tory party historian, Professor Tim Bale, are keen to see capital punishment restored.

But no Labour MP or trade union general secretary, no matter where they are on the Brexit scale of what to do can possibly support a no-deal exit going "over the cliff" as Michel Barnier put it to me in Brussels last week.

Just about every economic exchange in Britain that helps provide jobs, and the public revenues from taxes that support public services has some inter-connection with Europe. Every employee of supermarkets, the travel business, health care insitutions, all major manufacturing depend today on the unfettered 24/7 free flow of goods, foods, computer data transfers based on scores of thousands of EU regulations many of which British governments, Labour or Tory, proposed or helped design.

Under Mrs May's deal or anything similar, the door was opened to at least a decade of tetchy negotiations between a Brexit Britain and the rest of Europe. Michel Barnier's trade expert, the Cambridge educated German EU official, Sabine Weyand, has just been promoted to be the EU's top trade expert.

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She knows Brexit backwards and if Mrs May's deal was voted through would be in charge of shaping a new UK-EU trade deal. In those years of negotiations a great deal of the status-quo would be maintained.

But if the UK unilaterally walks out of the EU without any agreement then the door to first confusion and soon chaos immediately opens. One cannot do business inside the UK except on the basis of UK law. Otherwise firms operate illegally. No-one can do business with the US or India or South Africa except on the basis of American, Indian, or South African law.

The idea no-deal will allow British firms to do business with Europe - from planes landing, to radioactive isotopes being imported - while repudiating the common law of Europe is surreal.

The CBI, the British Chambers, every foreign firm like the Japanese car companies or Airbus are horrified at the thought. So probably are a majority of Tory MPs even if they have to keep heads down in face of the hostility of their party activists and supporters many of whom voted for Nigel Farage in the European election.

Labour should put on hold for a moment the divisions over whether or not the people should be consulted and instead unite around a nation-wide campaign to say no to no-deal. Trade unions can produce leaflets and hold meetings to attack any Tory wannabe PMs prepared to destroy the British economy by taking it over a cliff with Farage cheering on this economic kamikaze process.

Can Labour pause its internal wrangles and instead turn outwards to the electorate and campaign for No to No Deal? A short, hard hitting campaign can be mobilised and put Labour in touch with voters and businesses and show Labour leading a major national progressive campaign to protect jobs and keep firms alive.

'No to no-deal' unites a vast number of people in Britain. Over to the Labour leadership to make no to no-deal the campaign that every voter understands and most will support before the new prime minister enters Downing Street and the Commons decide how to handle Brexit after the summer holidays.

- Denis MacShane is the former Labour Minister for Europe. His new book Brexeternity: The Fate of Britain will be published later this year.

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