The Labour Party has been urged to abstain on the Prime Minister’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement next week (probably) when the government finally puts it to a vote in Parliament. Labour has said all along that they will vote against May’s Brexit because it doesn’t satisfy its six tests that the party set out last year. But the suggested change of tactics has been revealed on the Skwawkbox website which has been a strong supporter of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The sites says that the suggested tactic is not endorsed by the party, but makes the case for it.
Labour’s approach thus far has been to try to force a general election once May’s Withdrawal Agreement is voted down in Parliament, at which point Labour will table a no confidence vote in the government. If the government can’t get such an important policy through Parliament, then to all intents and purposes it will have lost the confidence of Parliament and the country too. But, in terms of the Parliamentary arithmetic it is unlikely that the government will lose the vote.
Rebel Tory MP’s of either the Remain or Leave factions do not want to bring down their own government, however unhappy they are with government’s handling of Brexit. So too, the Tory’s allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who have stated that they will not support a no confidence vote, but with a caveat. If May’s agreement is somehow accepted by Parliament, with the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ still in place, then the DUP’s only option would be to topple the government. The only way to do this, would be to support a no confidence vote, and they have said as much themselves.
There is a certain logic to this thinking, but there are huge risks as well. The vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, is only the first stage of it passing into law, with a second Act of Parliament, also to be voted on, required for it to pass into law. Might the DUP hold fire until this second vote? They may well do so. Even so, the opportunity to support a no confidence motion, will come around again, but is leaving things to chance a little, as the momentum may have already built for MPs to pass the agreement into law.
The more significant risk for Labour is from their own voters, who are mainly in favour of holding a second referendum, and voting to remain. Opinion polling appears to suggest that Labour would lose support by facilitating a Tory Brexit.
This is the biggest risk for Labour, because they could be judged as playing politics in their own party’s interests, rather than putting the good of the country first. There is no doubt that the Tories and their many friends in the media would paint it this way, and it has the potential to make Labour look like unprincipled opportunists.
Much as I would like to see the back of this cruel Tory government, this plan looks too clever by half. On the other hand, it is difficult to see any other way of Labour winning a no confidence vote. But things can change quickly in politics, and with the ongoing divide amongst Tory MPs, there is still a chance that the most hard-line Brexit supporting Tory MPs, will be pushed into a position where they feel as though they no other option other than collapsing their own government if it is the only way to stop what they may see as betrayal of the 2016 referendum result to the European Union.
This is the most unstable government I have seen for a long time; it would not be a surprise if Brexit brought it down.