LABOUR Shadow Chancellor McDonnell said yesterday that Labour may form the next government, a minority government, without a general election, if MPs don’t back Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
He said Labour should be offered the chance to form a minority administration, which would have to have the support of other parties such as the SNP and the DUP to rule in what would become a national government. The party would seek to get a majority for its version of Brexit which includes membership of the customs union and the single market, avoiding a ‘no deal’ exit. Failing that, he said, there should be a general election and the final option would be another EU referendum.
Meanwhile, Theresa May is heading to Brussels for talks with EU leaders and is hoping they will finalise the Brexit withdrawal agreement on Sunday.
MPs will then get a vote on the deal, when Labour will make its national government moves. Currently, there is no majority for Mrs May’s deal in parliament – but ministers hope enough MPs will swing behind it to get it through because the only alternative is no deal or ‘no Brexit’.
Labour and the other opposition parties would seek to find a way to work together to present MPs with other options, including a national government to prevent a hard Brexit that would feature the SNP and the DUP. McDonnell said there may be a number of parliamentary votes and it was ‘very difficult to predict’ what the final outcome would be.
He however had the same line as Tory MP Amber Rudd that there was no majority for a no-deal Brexit. McDonnell, speaking in London, said it was ‘difficult to see’ how there could be a general election – which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long insisted is his preferred option – at the moment because it would require two-thirds of MPs to back it under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
He said: ‘My own view is we haven’t explored sufficiently, neither has the media, these concepts, the constitution, our custom and practice. ‘If it’s a minority government and they can’t obtain a majority in parliament, usually it’s then the right, the duty of the Monarch to offer to the Opposition the opportunity to form a government and that would be a minority government, and see if they can secure a majority in parliament.
‘I think we can secure a majority in parliament for some of the proposals we’re putting forward.’
He said opposition parties were normally asked to form a government when a minority government was losing votes in the House of Commons. The Democratic Unionist Party withdrew its support for Mrs May in Budget votes in protest at her EU withdrawal agreement, he said.
‘However, I think the test is whether the government is losing consistent votes on the issue of the deal itself,’ he argued. In that case, he argued, Labour should be given a chance to try and get a majority for its plans and lead a government that would have to have the support of the SNP and DUP, and put an end to Brexit by decree or via a second referendum.
McDonnell continued: ‘Failing that I think a general election is the route we need, and obviously, if we can’t secure that then a further referendum.’ He said he hoped ‘to demonstrate over the next couple of weeks that there is a consensus in Parliament for a new approach’.
The shadow chancellor was sceptical about the chances of Brexit being stopped by another referendum, fearing ‘That if we did have another referendum, we might get the same or similar result and the country will still be divided. Somehow we have got to try and bring the country back together again.’ Brexit will have to be stolen if it cannot be defeated.