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Will Corbyn’s Brexit referendum strategy work? Our panel responds | Polly Toynbee and others

Will Corbyn’s Brexit referendum strategy work? Our panel responds | Polly Toynbee and others
Jeremy Corbyn, flanked by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, and foreign secretary Emily Thornberry at last year’s Labour conference. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Polly Toynbee: ‘Corbyn’s fence-sitting is preposterous’

Neutral! In mid-national crisis how does a party campaign on the great issue of our time with a leader who won’t say where he stands? Everything about the idea is preposterous. What do canvassers say on the doorstep? We’re a bit split and our leader refuses to say.

Jeremy Corbyn in today’s Guardian accuses Boris Johnson of backing no deal simply because it’s politically expedient. But Corbyn’s fence-sitting is no different. No one expects straight-dealing from Johnson: double-dealing is priced in. But it’s dangerous for Corbyn to flaunt callow political calculation. Honesty is his USP. What else was he doing all those wilderness back-bench years voting against his own government 500 times, if not standing up for unpopular principle? He was always a leaver, remain voters will assume, while leavers will not be convinced either by his umpire’s disguise.

Jeremy Corbyn: I’ll stay neutral and let the people decide on Brexit

He spent his life advocating Bennite democracy, where the party makes policy not leaders. Most of the party plus the great majority of its voters are strong remainers: how does he square that?

But wait, there is, just, a hair’s breadth of an escape hatch in his article. He would renegotiate a less damaging Brexit, put it to a referendum and implement the result. That’s fine. Though he implies his role is only as referee, he doesn’t – quite – say he would campaign for neither side. It’s for this weekend’s Labour conference to make him take his members’ side – not some conference floor stitch-up by some unions and backroom fixers. If not, expect another mighty flight of Labour voters to the Lib Dems.

• Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

Tom Kibasi: ‘Labour’s plan is common sense’

With Labour conference fast approaching, the party has now firmed up its commitment to giving the people the “final say” on Brexit as the only way to break the impasse. Jeremy Corbyn has set out his unequivocal support for a referendum between remain and a “sensible” plan to leave.

Labour can make such a commitment precisely because its proposals for the future partnership with the EU were welcomed by senior EU leaders earlier in the year as a way to break the deadlock. Unburdened by Brexit dogma, Labour’s plan also has the benefit of being common sense: continuing the UK’s economic, social and security cooperation but on a new and different political basis. It was always the logical response to a close vote.

There will still be pressure for Labour to be more vocally committed to remain. But as the Liberal Democrats have shown in Bournemouth this week, becoming a “remain party” is neither simple nor costless. Leading Lib Dems have found themselves unable to consistently explain when they would support revoke and when they would want a second referendum. That’s because “revoke” is the demand of a pressure group, not a serious political party.

But with activists lined up to demand a remain position against more circumspect trade unions, there is potential for a major row at the Labour conference next week. Only Corbyn can defuse it – by emphasising that Labour is a democratic and pluralist party that will respect those who support leaving the EU while reminding members that he himself campaigned to remain in 2016 and would do so again.

Only Labour will give the people a final say on Brexit | Jeremy Corbyn

If Britain is to move on from Brexit, it needs a vision for the economy and society beyond Brexit and political leadership capable of governing for the whole nation, whether we are in or out of the EU.

Puffed-up gesture politics for revoke or for no deal will keep the country in crisis far into the 2020s. The Tories and Lib Dems have promised to hurtle Britain towards calamity – whether via the economic crash promised by the former, or the democratic disaster by the latter. Now is Labour’s chance to show it can pull Britain back from the brink.

• Tom Kibasi is director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. He writes in a personal capacity

Giles Wilkes: ‘It’s not simple, but Corbyn’s position is oddly honourable’

You do not have to like them to realise the best political slogans – think “Vote leave, take control”, “Labour isn’t working” or “Make America great again” – are the ones you can fit on a bus or baseball cap.

So pity the Labour staffer tasked with turning Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit position into something pithy. The best I can manage is “Brexit, but not this Brexit, or maybe not Brexit at all – over to you.” It is a neat manifestation of the agonies he has suffered for three years on this issue.

It is also rather unfair. Brexit is complicated. Only the zealots think there is no compromise to be made. There are plenty: between our economic interests and political fit, between what the people and their elected representatives think is best, between the simplicity of slogans and the ugly reality of our entanglement in the European economy. As a would-be majority party, Labour has to contain multitudes, and contradict itself.

So I find something oddly honourable in Corbyn’s refusal to get off the fence. But what looks like an honest acknowledgment of ambiguity to some is a sneaky lack of principle to others. How can an issue so important to so many elicit such a painstakingly calculated shrug?

In 10 years each of the major parties has tried to sell itself as the only one to offer the people a vote on Europe. But people are fatigued, and want something simple to end it all. Honourable or not, “over to you” is the last thing most of them want to hear.

• Giles Wilkes is a former adviser to Vince Cable and Theresa May on economic policy

Lisa Nandy: ‘Labour is the only party acknowledging divisions in the country’

I didn’t support the first referendum and do not support a second. But the sentiment behind Labour’s stance is important, recognising divisions and seeking to allow them expression. Labour is divided because the country is divided. We represent places that voted to leave and remain in large numbers. In Walthamstow, another referendum and remain seems obvious to many; in Wigan, for the most part, it seems absurd. To pick a side kills any hope of bringing a divided country back together. We can no more wish away the votes of 17.4 million who voted leave than the 16.1 million who voted remain - and nor should we.

Nevertheless, problems remain. To make a case to hold a second referendum before there has been any serious attempt to implement the first is impossible in many constituencies. People who voted, after years of disillusionment, strongly believe democracy is at stake. We cannot defend liberal democracy against a prime minister who trashes it without acknowledging the harm this does.

Still, there is honesty in acknowledging that divisions exist and that those who pretend there are easy answers are not being truthful. A referendum considered illegitimate by many will have severe consequences. Leaving with no deal will put jobs and lives at risk. Negotiating a good deal will take years. I believe the right compromise is to leave with a deal that protects our close ties with the EU, but there are no paths open to us that do not come at a cost. Labour is the only party prepared to acknowledge it, and the truth matters.

•Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan

Topic: #brexit
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