Labour's Brexit position is turned on its head as Tom Watson goes soft

Written by Dods staff on 1 September 2017 in Diary

Labour is now 'the party of soft Brexit'. How did that happen?

Labour is "the party of soft Brexit", the party's deputy leader has declared - just a few weeks after the shadow chancellor sent out a very different message.

Asked on the BBC's Newsnight whether Labour would be happy calling itself the "party of soft Brexit", Tom Watson replied: "Yes."

He added: "We think being part of the customs union and the single market is important in those transitional times because that's the way you protect jobs and the economy and it might be a permanent outcome of the negotiations, but we've got to see how those negotiations go."

But Watson's declaration comes just a few months after John McDonnell could not have been clearer that staying in the single market after Brexit would be a betrayal of the British people.

Appearing on ITV's Peston on Sunday programme, the shadow chancellor said: "People will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum."





Jeremy Corbyn went even further on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on 23 July, insisting that being in the single market was "inextricably linked" with being a member of the EU.

And the following day, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner burnished Labour's hard Brexit credentials by declaring that staying in the customs union after quitting the EU would be "a disaster".

A month later, however, Labour's policy was on the move. Writing in The Observer, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the party now backed single market membership during any transitional period after Brexit day on 29 March, 2019.

Watson's comments suggest that the party's soft Brexiters have won the party's summer-long internal battle. But the party's Brexit journey has not been a smooth ride.

"Anyone who tries to claim that the dramatic shift in Labour's stance is part of a cunning strategic plan to wrong-foot the Tories are either being wilfully disingenuous or haven't really been paying attention," says PoliticsHome editor Kevin Schofield.



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