Labour split: What does it mean for British politics and Brexit?

What kind of new dynamics could Labour split bring into the UK political scene and the Brexit debate? Could it be significant or probably not so much? Read few comments.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit:

Peter Snowdon, Contemporary Historian and Journalist, Co-Author of Cameron at 10: The Inside Story 2010-2015

It is obviously a big moment for the Labour Party and for the individual MPs who took the decision to leave. Their stinging criticism of the leadership will send shockwaves throughout the party and beyond.

It is difficult to know whether this will ‘break the mould of British politics’ as the SDP breakaway in the early 1980s promised to do. It depends whether the new group will attract cross-party support. If it does, it could splinter both main parties, but we should be cautious in making predictions given the febrile state of British politics.

Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University

The key change is that it further complicates an already extremely complicated situation. There were some prospects of moderate Labour MPs maybe co-operating with moderate Conservative MPs on getting some kind of deal through on Brexit, or a delay to the Article 50 process. However, with this split it will be extremely difficult for moderate Labour MPs to do anything with the Independent Group, who will be seen as traitors by many in the Labour Party. In addition, any criticism of Corbyn will not be associated with people who damaged the party by formally leaving. It looks to me like this split will further entrench the political paralysis and make finding a solution more difficult.

Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British History, University of Newcastle

Today’s split in the Labour Party – though it must be stressed it is currently only seven from 256 Members of Parliament – has the potential to be highly significant, although more in terms of British party politics than Brexit.

The seven are explicitly pro-EU, and support a second referendum. Labour’s lack of leadership on the issue – as they see it – is a key reason for their leaving. They are part of the People’s Vote campaign which is non-party, and the Labour Party position includes the possibility of another referendum. So to the extent that Brexit already crosses traditional party lines, the impact is likely to be minimal.

Where Brexit is relevant and where this leads into the potential impact on the broader structure of British politics, is that the new grouping is positioning itself as to appeal to pro-EU voters who don’t feel represented by the Labour or Conservative parties, both of which are divided on the issue.

Brexit is one policy area of many which the seven think will contribute to the relevance and the appeal of the Independent Group. If they can attract MPs from other parties, as well as from their own, and can attract backers, then their impact may be profound, both negatively – such as in taking votes away from parties in marginal seats – as positively: around a third of voters feel politically homeless. If the new grouping can appeal to them then much could happen

Matthew Francis, Teaching Fellow, School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham

The honest answer is that the impact is likely to be fairly minor. Despite the frequent comparisons in the British press, this is not the equivalent of the split in the Labour Party that occurred in 1981, The four MPs who left then – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers, and Shirley Williams – were household names, and had held important ministerial offices. The seven MPs who left today are far more minor figures, most of whom will never have registered in the imaginations of the general public.

In a sense, the split merely formalises something we have known for a while – that a significant number of backbench Labour MPs cannot tolerate Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party – and the only real question is how many, if any, of their colleagues choose to follow them over the next few months. The resignation of these MPs ought, in theory, to be an embarrassment to the Labour Party, but the current leadership have shown themselves to be pretty impervious to public embarrassment in recent years.

The impact on Brexit is likely to be minimal. We don’t know very much about the specifics of the policies that the seven MPs in the Independent Group intend to promote, but all seven have publicly supported the call for a second referendum on Brexit, which you would think would mean that all seven would continue to oppose the government’s position despite no longer being bound by the Labour whip.

Where there is some uncertainty is how other Labour MPs respond to the party’s Brexit policy. If the leadership maintains its current strategy – to find any excuse to avoid supporting a second referendum – then it is possible that some other pro-European Labour MPs feel that they have no choice but to leave. If that were to happen on a large scale then we would be in very interesting territory indeed. But it isn’t likely.

Bill Jones, Senior Honorary Research Fellow,  Liverpool Hope University

The split is a reflection of the one which has existed since Corbyn became leader. He is a left-wing socialist who is very anti-USA and EU as well as being sympathetic to Russia and Maduro in Venezuela. The MPs in the party are a majority from the days when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in charge: gradual change and pro EU and NATO.

The problem is that this attempt to re-assert ‘centrist’ policies is against the current zeitgeist. Centre left and centre right parties have been in decline all over the democratic world and it remains to be seen if there is a pent up demand for more of the same.

The 7 defectors hope Labour leadership will realise the vast majority of Labour supporters are opposed to Brexit and want a People’s Vote to decide the issue again. I’m not sure their timing has been perfect here and much will depend on whether other Labour moderates defect to join them or maybe Remainder Tories like Anna Soubry. I’m doubtful personally if they will.

Just because the moderate parties in the centre ground have been taken over by the militant wings of left and right, doesn’t mean voters will flock to join a new ‘centre’ party. On Brexit, these former Labour MPs will vote against Brexit but if the leadership’s views shift towards seizing control of Brexit, from the government’s hands, as MPs can do if they are united, then I suspect the 7 defectors will be voting alongside their former colleagues as before.

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