Barry Gardiner: Labour’s Brexit policy is “bollocks”

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Barry Gardiner
Barry Gardiner MP speaking at the 2016 Labour Party conference. Photo by Rwendland (CC4.0)

Speaking to a private meeting of Members of the European Parliament in Brussells, UK Shadow Secretary for International Trade Barry Gardiner has labelled the Brexit policy of his own Labour Party as “bollocks.” *

Labour’s contradictions exposed

Free from the discipline of having to actually implement any of their policies, the British opposition Labour Party has indulged in a Brexit policy that tries to appeal both to both Remain and Leave voters.

Labour acknowledges the will of the people as expressed in the referendum to leave the EU, but says it will only support a specific Brexit deal if has no negative consequences.

This policy made clear in a key policy speech by the Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer in March 2017. To get Labour’s support any deal “must deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union.”

However much Labour might want the UK to enjoy the benefits of EU membership without actually being in it, this has never been a realistic prospect. At roughly the same time as Starmer’s policy speech, EU Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt made it crystal clear that as far as the EU was concerned, leaving the union must have a downside:

“We can never, never create a state for the British or any other country outside the EU which is more favourable than being inside the EU.

“Otherwise there’s no point to the EU. There must be an advantage to being a member of the EU and that’s the foundation of the mandate for the negotiations for the commission and the EU Parliament.”

Labour’s plan for a cost-free Brexit may not be viable, but it nevertheless proved remarkably popular with voters in the 2017 snap general election. According to YouGov research, Labour picked up 15% of Conservative voters from the 2015 general election because of Brexit.

Nonviable political positions have a way of unravelling overt time, however.

While speaking to a group of MEPs last month, Barry Gardiner used colorful language to describe the contradictions inherent in the Labour position. Unfortunately for Gardiner, a recording of his talk was posted on the political blog The Red Roar on Tuesday, causing embarrassment and consternation for all.

Barry Gardiner comes clean…accidentally

“The withdrawal treaty and the six tests. Well, let’s just take one test. The exact same benefits. It’s bollocks. Always has been bollocks and it remains it.

“We know very well that we cannot have the exact same benefits and actually, you know, it would have made sense, because it was the Tories that said they were going to secure the exact same benefits, and our position should have been precisely to say ‘they have said that they will secure the exact same benefits and we’re going to hold them to that standard.’ Not that we think we can secure the exact same benefits as well.”

Oops.

Never mind the bollocks

While the remarks will undoubtedly be a source of embarrassment for Barry Gardiner, it must be something of a relief for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to see someone else in his party enduring difficult headlines.

Since the revelation in February that Corbyn had repeated contact with a communist spy in the 1980s (which failed to cause any lasting damage) he spent most of the last month fending off increasingly serious accusations of antisemitism (which have been extremely damaging).

In comparison, any narrative about party policy (even a fairly embarrassing one) must be a refreshing change.

*A British colloquial term for testicles, but also slang for nonsense.

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