5 Dec 2017

Labour announces fundamental shift in Brexit policy

In a fast-moving plot, yet another twist. The Labour front bench has used the urgent question put down to ask David Davis about yesterday’s Brussels mess-up to announce a fundamental shift in its own policy.

Sir Keir Starmer told the government that now was the time to put membership of the customs union AND the single market back on the table. It could have big significance for the future.

The possibility of staying in the Customs Union had been creeping back into Labour’s policy options (despite the best efforts of the Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner). The Single Market had not been brought back into acceptable policy options. David Davis pointed out that John McDonnell had been among those on the Labour front bench who had ruled out continuing membership of the single market as a betrayal of referendum voters. The fact that John McDonnell was sitting on the front bench to hear the words shows this was no slip of the tongue.

The point of the UQ was to ask the government what was going on after the DUP had effectively pulled the plug on yesterday’s negotiations.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds told MPs that the Irish government had shown an aggressive, anti-unionist face and behaved disgracefully. He said repairing relations would take a long time and the preferred approach of Dublin would be economically catastrophic. He didn’t sound like a man who was necessarily working to the same “I could be back on Wednesday” timetable that Theresa May was suggesting in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Dodds will be one of 3 DUP MPs who meet with the government later today, to talk through where things go next. Damian Green wasn’t at the last such meeting last Thursday, which appears to have been with the newly appointed Chief Whip, Julian Smith. It’s not clear who they will face across the table today but it is not expected to be the PM herself. Arlene Foster will remain in Northern Ireland for the moment.

A source said, “there’s no chance of anything before Christmas,” which would be a major blow to the PM’s ability to keep a grip on her job. Much now depends on getting the DUP down from the ceiling they hit yesterday lunchtime. “It won’t be easy,” one longstanding Northern Ireland nationalist politician said; “the government opened a veto bar up in front of a bunch of veto-holics,” he said.

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