Article @ Labour List, published 23 March 2018
Owen Smith, shadow Northern Ireland secretary and staunch Remainer, was published in the Guardian today questioning the viability of Brexit, specially in relation to the Irish question.
Responding to transition deal brokered by Theresa May with the European Union, Smith argued that the consequences would go beyond the practical impossibilities.
He wrote: “The openness of the Irish border is a hugely important sign of the continuing successes – despite all the problems – of the peace process cemented into the Good Friday agreement.
“More than that, it demonstrates, every day, that different identities, histories and jurisdictions can coexist on the island without threatening each side’s integrity or legitimacy.”
Smith garnered the support of fellow MP Chuka Umunna, whose constituency of Streatham in south London had the highest vote in support of Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Owen Smith is absolutely right when he says that Labour needs to go further in opposing the government on Brexit,” said Umunna, who is also a leading supporter of anti-Brexit group Open Britain.
“The Brexiteers made many promises to voters that we now know cannot be delivered on.
“They told us that we had nothing to worry about over Ireland, when it is plain they were clueless about the issues involved.
“They pledged us £350 million a week for the NHS when the reality is that Brexit threatens to do deep damage to our health service.
“If we are not going to be offered the Brexit we were promised we have every right to ask whether Brexit is the right path for the country.”
And while neither Smith nor Umunna mentioned a second referendum, or a national vote on the final deal, many seemed to read their comments as a call for one.
EU27 agree on Brexit guidelines
Smith’s cri de coeur came mere hours before Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer insisted that while the European leaders’ agreed guidelines on post-Brexit trade were “a step in the right direction”, the Prime Minister had to change her “reckless” attitude towards the EU27.
The document, which delineates positions on security, trade and other financial agreements, took reportedly “less than half a minute” to be agreed on.
Among the guidelines the suggestion of a free trade agreement with no goods tariffs stood out, and is certain to make May’s government sigh in relief. But an “evolution clause” could see the EU reconsider all offers if Britain changes its mind on certain questions, including staying in the customs union.
Echoing Smith’s concerns, Starmer added: “Theresa May must now finally drop her reckless red lines and take the action needed to protect jobs, the economy and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.”