‘Labour is the Hope of the World” reads the legend on Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s Christmas card, above a heteronormative image of an antique miner’s family. But Labour is hardly the hope of Brexit.

The one thing that stands out from this shameful week of parliamentary confusion and disarray is that Labour holds the key to resolving the Britain’s deepest post-war crisis, but lacks the will to use it.

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Theresa May’s game plan is clear. After her deal is defeated in mid-January, she will delay and prevaricate, let the days and hours tick by until a hard Brexit becomes an imminent reality. She will then force Parliament to accept her deal to avoid no deal. From her point of view it makes sense. The reality is that Labour risks colluding with this irresponsible brinksmanship. It has been playing around with presentational diversions to avoid having to make any strategic decision about unblocking Brexit.


The Prime Minister batted away Jeremy Corbyn’s contrived attempt to move a confidence motion in her personally, but not her Government – a “motion of no consequence” as it’s been called. A properly tabled confidence motion, which Labour knows is the only one that would have been put to a vote, would likely have been defeated as Tory MPs united around their beleaguered leader. But at least this would have moved Parliament and the nation on.

It would have made crystal clear that an early General Election is off the table – which of course is why Labour’s bottled it. Instead we have a crippling stasis lasting now well into the New Year. Thereafter, a hair-raising game of chicken, in which the stakes are the very peace of the realm, as confirmed yesterday by the Government’s proposal to deploy 3,500 troops on the streets and ports in March.

I keep hearing lamentations from Labour supporters who find themselves yearning for the return of Tony Blair. The discredited former PM is the only politician who seems to be offering anything remotely resembling leadership right now. He has been perambulating around Europe, much to Mrs May’s displeasure, urging EU leaders to take seriously the possibility of the repeat referendum he advocates. He brushes aside the argument that this would be a betrayal of democracy. Nonsense, he says: a referendum IS democracy – the only democratic solution when Parliament is deadlocked.

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In one sense Labour is more united than ever. Both the youth wing, and the activists of Momentum, are ardent Remainers and desperate for another referendum. In this they are joined by the old Blairite Labour Right, led by former shadow cabinet luminaries like Chukka Umunna and Hilary Benn. But the old Labour Left, who by an accident of history happen to occupy the Labour leadership right now, are Eurosceptics in the proper sense of the word. Mr Corbyn says he voted Remain in 2016, but Labour’s 2017 manifesto made a clear promise to deliver Brexit and end free movement.

Labour only really opposes Mrs May’s version of Brexit because it doesn’t protect workplace rights and doesn’t guarantee friction-free trade. Mr Corbyn says he wants a General Election so that he can go off and negotiate a version of the Withdrawal Agreement that doesn’t have these limitations. But everyone knows this is pure fantasy – an insult to the intelligence of the voters. Even if there were time for a General Election and a renegotiation before March, it would be futile. The Withdrawal Agreement is a legally drafted document, negotiated over two and half long years, and has been endorsed by all 27 remaining states. Unless the UK is prepared to lift its red lines and stay in the single market with Norway, which Labour isn’t prepared to do, then there is nothing more to be said. The Irish backstop would remain because Labour is committed to avoiding a border.

The logic of Labour’s position should surely be to wrest what concessions it can from Mrs May about workplace protections and the Good Friday Agreement and then back her amended deal. The Withdrawal Agreement is not, after all, the future trade agreement with the European Union. It only sorts the immediate problems of paying the divorce bill and guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, here and in Ireland. The Political Declaration on the future relations with the EU that accompanied the Withdrawal Agreement is much more contentious. It’s a vague wish list in which the only definitive red line is on free movement, insisted upon by Mrs May. Labour should surely be using its influence now to ensure that the future trade deal keeps Britain in that “permanent customs union and single market alignment” that Mr Corbyn always talks about.

Now, many Scots will be appalled at this suggestion that Labour should back Mrs May, and I hasten to add that it is not my own position. I would never have left the European Union in the first place. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and has been treated abominably in the Brexit process. Scotland’s legitimate interests in securing a Brexit that doesn’t damage Scottish economic and civic life have been peremptorily dismissed by Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals for Scotland to have similar regulatory alignment with the EU, as accepted for Northern Ireland, were batted away without a thought.

The UK Government’s subsequent legal jiggery-pokery has damaged the constitutional standing of the Scottish Parliament. The Sewel Convention, under which the Scottish Parliament had to consent to Westminster legislation that cuts across its devolved powers, has been exposed as a sham. No backstop there. The Scottish Parliament’s Continuity Bill, which sought to ensure that Holyrood retained its devolved powers as they were repatriated from Brussels, was disposed of by retrospective legislation which would have shamed a banana republic. Scotland’s requests for devolution of responsibilities like immigration have also been ignored.

But the unfortunate reality is that Scotland is irrelevant right now. The Westminster parties are entirely preoccupied with their own Brexit psychodrama. After the dust settles, sometime around 2021, Scots will have to make their own decision about whether to remain or leave the UK.