The Conservatives are currently in such disagreement over what the government approach to the second round of Brexit negotiations should be that the vote on the final deal seems a long way off indeed. However, it’s clearly on the mind of the Opposition. At a Resolution Foundation panel event this morning, Len McCluskey – the leader of Unite and top Corbyn ally – said he hoped Labour MPs voted down any Brexit deal the Tories come back with:
‘My personal hope and belief is that in late Autumn of this year the [Brexit] deal that comes back to parliament will be rejected, Theresa May will resign, and it will lead to an early general election in 2019.’
The Unite chief has since tried to clarify the meaning of his comments on Twitter – insisting he doesn’t mean that there should be a second referendum, just that Labour should reject any Tory deal:
Just to be absolutely clear. I am NOT calling for a 2nd #Brexit referendum. I agree with @lisanandy that we need to understand the reasons behind the first vote. My preferred approach is for parliament to vote down a Tory deal because it won't be in the interests of the people.
— Len McCluskey (@LenMcCluskey1) January 30, 2018
McCluskey’s comments appear to be more aimed at making the most of an opportunity to get Labour in power than stopping Brexit. If anything, Brexit appears to be an after thought. It’s true that if May’s deal was rejected by Parliament, it’s entirely possible that there would be an early election – and it wouldn’t be a great backdrop for a Tory win.
So, how likely is it that Labour MPs would actually do this? The fact remains that the choice presented come 2018 when MPs vote on the final deal will be to take what’s on the table – or take no deal at all. This means that – in theory – if Parliament rejects the deal, Britain crashes out on WTO terms. Unless that changes, it’s hard to see how the more Remain MPs could consider this as an appealing option even if it did mean imminent power.
But as I have written before, there are some Eurosceptic MPs who think Labour could provide the numbers to vote down any bad deal. They say: what Opposition could resist the chance to bring down the government? These MPs point to the Maastricht Treaty where Labour voted against it on the grounds that Britain was opting out to the social chapter even though they agreed with the treaty in principle. It’s an argument that appears to hold weight with the financial sector. This week Morgan Stanley told clients that there is a two-thirds likelihood of snap elections in the second half of 2018 once the Conservative Party starts to fracture over Brexit. McCluskey’s words may hold more weight than people first presume.