Responding to Tory Brexit minister James Cleverly on the BBC, on 3 May, Labour's Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said: “You as a Brexit Minister should understand that we are in there [in the Labour-Tory talks on Brexit] trying to bail you guys out".
Whether or not this is how the entire Labour leadership and negotiating team views the talks, it must certainly reflect a strong strand of opinion – and in any case it reflects the unfortunate political dynamic. Whatever the risks for the Tories, the risks for Labour if it agrees a deal are greater. It would amount precisely to bailing the Tories out. These talks, to the degree they are “successful”, mean Labour accepting most of the Tories’ Brexit agenda, including for instance its Immigration Bill.
The political logic of this is shown by Rebecca Long-Bailey referring to discussions in the negotiations about workers’ rights as “fantastic” (!) Concerningly, John McDonnell tweeted “message from local elections – ‘Brexit – sort it.’ Message received.” This ambiguous statement is being widely interpreted as leaning further towards making a deal.
The talks are effectively counterposed to Labour taking the fight to the Tories, as the local government election results show. Similarly they are now a risk to Labour’s campaign in the European elections. Labour members should protest about Gardiner’s comments and, more importantly, demand the party withdraws from the talks. Activists are circulating a statement calling for that.
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The statement reads: "As Labour members, we are writing to you regarding the ongoing talks between the government and the Labour Party over Brexit. With local and European election campaigns ongoing, these talks are now proving to be a distraction. We need a radical and positive message on the doorstep, and we need to attack the Tories’ Brexit plans. This is much more difficult to do when Labour is technically in negotiations about delivering some kind of joint Brexit plan. The Tories want to use Brexit to deregulate the economy, and attack the rights of workers and migrants. Labour policy, adopted unanimously at party conference in September 2018, is to oppose a deal that does not meet Labour’s tests. It is clear that these talks will not produce a deal which meets our tests. Theresa May and the Conservative Party have no interest in acting in good faith in these negotiations, and they cannot give Labour enough to agree a deal anyway. There has been no progress, and our presence in the room serves no useful purpose, is wasting time, and is doing us damage. We are therefore writing to you to urge you to withdraw from these talks, and turn the focus to fighting the Tories’ Brexit plans. "