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Monday 5 June 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# UK elects
What are the Brexit stances of the main British parties?
What the hell does the UK’s Labour Party stand for on Brexit?

pjimage (1) PA Images / Photojoiner PA Images / Photojoiner / Photojoiner

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION and its leaders granted the UK an extension to Article 50 which triggers its withdrawal from the EU in order to allow the UK to hold an election. 

Despite the new Brexit deadline having been pushed back to 31 January, the issue has not gone away. Whatever the political make-up of the House of Commons is on 13 December, that will decide the next course of Brexit.

A change of Tory leader was once thought to bring enough change to get some form of Brexit divorce deal through the fractured House of Commons – but that hasn’t worked. 

So here we are, in the midst of a winter election: but how will a new government, and a new House of Commons, change Brexit?

Here are the options… 

The Conservatives

The detail of the Conservatives’ Brexit policy has been in flux (remember Tory PM David Cameron campaigned for Remain), but now they stand for Brexit, and one that involves leaving the Customs Union and Single Market as Theresa May announced in 2017.

If Boris Johnson delivers on his pledge to storm home a victorious election result for the Tories, and a 320-strong majority, we have a straightforward path for his Brexit deal. 

The House of Commons returns on 16 December, so Johnson is likely to “unpause” his 110-page Brexit Withdrawal Agreement legislation, and propose a new schedule for debating and amending it. 

This is where the snag could be: if an amendment is tabled and passed by the House that is in some way incompatible with the Withdrawal Agreement or the EU’s red lines, then we’re back to another British parliamentary stalemate. 

But, with the possibility that things could all go smoothly in the setting of a fresh House of Commons, a Tory majority could mean that the UK actually does leave on 31 January next year (particularly as it would reenforce Johnson’s mandate to pass his Brexit divorce deal).

The Labour Party

Where to start. The UK’s Labour Party has struggled with what Brexit stance it would take. As the Tories became the party that would deliver Brexit, the natural position for the opposite main British party to take was Remain.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-standing critic of the EU as overly bureaucratic and veering too close to the idea of a European federation. 

Corbyn has looked weak during bouts of Prime Minister’s Question as a result – criticising the Tories for their record on Brexit, for failing to get a Brexit deal through the House, but not being clear about what he would do instead.

A bit of clarity came in July this year, when Labour said it would back a second referendum first and foremost, and that in a referendum where the options were the Tories’ Withdrawal Agreement, a no-deal Brexit or remain, Labour would campaign for remain.

Corbyn said Labour was the “party of choice” when it came to Brexit.

At the Labour Party’s party conference in September, the party narrowly rejected a grassroots attempt to force leader Jeremy Corbyn to have Labour campaign outright for Remain, and to reverse the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Instead, Corbyn and Labour’s ruling executive agreed in a secret ballot that Labour would adopt no official Brexit position in its general election campaign. So here we are.

Corbyn clarified this further this week, when he told Sky News that if in government, he and his party would ask for a fourth Brexit extension from the EU, despite indications from the EU that another extension won’t be granted.

I am very clear… [we] will get that extension.

He then said that he would “secure a credible deal in three months”, then “put it to the people for the final say, with the option to remain, in six months”.

As to what kind of Brexit deal Labour would negotiate, according to Corbyn’s most recent comments, free movement of people between the UK and EU would continue, suggesting a closely aligned soft-Brexit. 

“[Free movement] enriches the lives of all of us,” he said.

The Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats recently became the party of Remain, meaning they will reverse Brexit by unilaterally revoking Brexit if they manage to form a government majority (highly unlikely).

Its leader Jo Swinson responded to a question on whether this was antidemocratic by saying that the party was open about what it would do when in government, and if successful on 12 December, it would be a new democratic mandate.

The Lib Dems are expected to pluck some seats away from the Conservatives in pro-Remain areas on this clear mandate.

Criticising Corbyn’s indecision, Swinson said: “On so many grounds, Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for the job of prime minister.

“On the biggest issue of the day, he has prevaricated and will not give a straight answer. Even now if you ask him whether he is Remain or Leave he will not tell you how he would vote.”

The Brexit Party

Another straightforward one. The Brexit Party think that the only way to deliver on the Brexit mandate from the 2016 referendum is through a no-deal Brexit.

Its founder and leader Nigel Farage has asked Johnson to form a pact with him for the election, which would see them team up to wil seats, but would mean that Johnson would have to “drop” his Brexit deal. 

“I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider and drop the deal because it’s not Brexit,” he said in a Brexit Party newsletter.

Instead, Farage says that “a simple FTA” should be agreed by 1 July 2020.

“That must mean no new EU Treaty. No new negotiations on the impossible basis of Mr Barnier’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. No signing us up to any political linkage to the EU or the authority of EU courts,” he said.

‘Regional’ parties & the Greens


The Scottish National Party has campaigned against Brexit and to remain in the EU, on the basis that the majority of Scotland voted to remain.

Scottish National Party leader Nicolas Sturgeon has vowed to “escape Brexit” during the launch of her independence-seeking, pro-European party’s British election campaign.

“A vote for the SNP… is a vote to escape Brexit,” she said, tying a remain vote to the apparent growing Brexit fatigue. 

Plaid Cymru and the Green party are also ‘remain’ parties, and have agreed a ‘Remain’ election pact with the Lib Dems across 60 seats in England and Wales in order not to split the anti-Brexit vote.

The DUP is, of course, a pro Brexit party, and Sinn Féin are a staunchly anti-Brexit party. But both have said that they are against any kind of border in the Irish Sea or on the island of Ireland. 

The SDLP are against Brexit, the UUP are for it, generally speaking. The Alliance Party are also firmly anti-Brexit, which could do well in this election. 

“If you are a pro-EU unionist, Alliance is your best and possibly only option and I think this has helped the party,” said Dr David Mitchell, an expert in conflict studies in TCD.

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