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Boris Johnson’s “wonderclout” deal: why Labour should abstain

3 min read

Thanks to the Christmas present of Susie Dent’s ‘Word Perfect’ book, the most apt term I have for Johnson’s deal is “wonderclout” which roughly means what may initially seem great, is actually awful.

The sense of relief at avoiding No Deal was palpable on Christmas Eve and many have been urged to back the deal, with a Labour three line whip to do so. I cannot accept this position and think it shows a lack of strategy and leadership after eight months of Keir Starmer repositioning Labour well, and turning around polling after the disastrous 2019 election result. 

My first checkpoint is national interest. Not voting for Johnson’s Bill ushers in No Deal, which harms national interest, is the argument. This is patronising at best. Voting against might allow this accusation but the Government majority of 80 allows an alternate course, in abstaining. There are multiple justifications for this course, not least that the deal undermines our economy and security.

Almost 80% of our economy is in services but none are covered by the deal. Even physical trade in goods will now have new customs checks and paperwork to process, imposing costs on the UK from 1st January that were not there on New Year’s Eve. Not one business is better off under the deal and the Government’s own estimate is of another massive hit to our GDP after all the covid damage in 2020 and the huge growth in unemployment. 

Leaving so many jobs and industries uncovered means years more negotiated wranglings before even the basics are covered. ‘Getting Brexit done’ is an empty slogan, swiftly coming unstuck when it hits that tiny problem of reality. In the real world, negotiating fish catches annually and leaving so much of the deal in the ‘to be determined’ category is simply another demonstration of weakness, not strength, from a Prime Minister cornered by the nastiest elements of his own party and base. 

Johnson’s Deal also exacerbates nationalism. The small-minded billionaire English nationalists who have largely driven Brexit are not the only nationalists cheering. Scottish nationalists cannot help themselves in seeing Brexit as an excuse for more of the same damage, division and destruction, but within the UK. On the island of Ireland, the Republic Government is offering to cover Erasmus and healthcare costs for both countries and a new border is being constructed between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This was unacceptable to the Conservative and Unionist Party not long ago, before it was cannibalised by Brextremists. There will also now be an annual bunfight over fish to ensure French nationalists and others don’t miss out.

Given Johnson is about as popular as Trump in Scotland, the future of the UK is also genuinely at risk, adding to concerns over a crucial issue not covered by the deal: security. No arrest warrant, intelligence or info sharing on passengers heading for the UK is agreed. The most the deal offers is that security will be negotiated at a later date. No matter what the mumpsimus Priti Patel claims, the truth matters and the UK gets less safe on New Year’s Day. Yes, mumpsimus also comes via Susie Dent and means someone who insists they are right despite clear, incontrovertible evidence they are not. Brexit backers have been a plague of mumpsimuses. 

To back the deal is a mistake. Labour should be resolutely highlighting how it downgrades the UK and British jobs, making us less competitive and less secure. The battle of the next decade is already underway: rebuilding rights Brits are losing and regaining access to markets made tougher by this deal for British employers. It is that positive vision for the future which Labour should prioritise and project. Rachel Reeves’ article is a good start, but justifies an abstention, not backing Johnson’s downgrade in this vote. 

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