When we consider the public disagreements with Brexit, this can be divided into two broad categories: Leavers and Remainers. There are those who like the EU and want to stay in it and those who don’t. For political parties, however, the disagreements surrounding Brexit are more nuanced and messy than they first appear. The question of whether to stay “in” or “out” of the EU was only the beginning, and it seems that with every twist and turn in Brexit, there is fierce opposition.
The Conservative Party
Brexit started out as the brainchild of David Cameron, as he put the referendum in his 2015 manifesto to arguably secure a Conservative majority. Some critics have argued that this radical promise was made in an attempt to appeal to the more hardline right-wingers who had begun to shun the Conservatives in favour of UKIP. It seems that nobody, including Cameron, expected that the referendum would actually happen. However, he decided to hold one anyway to save face to his voters.
The referendum exposed the splits in the party over Brexit, as various prominent MPs such as Boris Johnson passionately campaigned to leave the EU whilst Cameron, alongside future Prime Minister Theresa May, made it clear that they thought remaining in the EU was the best option.
Cameron’s stance on Brexit was most likely the reason that when the referendum results were announced, he resigned shortly after. His gamble went on further than he ever planned it to, and had led to what he saw as drastic consequences for the UK. With Remainer May stepping up as Prime Minister the leader in Brexit negotiations, it’s safe to say that Brexiteer Tories were far from impressed.
Simultaneous to her battles with the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), May started to lose grip on her party further with a string of high-profile resignations from her cabinet as well as a humiliating vote of no confidence within her party. Although the Tories ultimately unified behind Theresa May by largely supporting her leadership of the party initially, her problems were far from over and further defeats of the proposed withdrawal agreement saw her authority sap away and talk once more of deposing her. She is now expected to set out her departure date, regardless of the result of her fourth and final attempt to pass the agreement in the Commons.
The Labour Party
Labour also shows sign of a split, but it isn’t so much between the members. Instead, there seems to be a split between the Labour Party’s public and private persona regarding Brexit. Although the party itself appears to support Remainers and the idea of a People’s Vote/second referendum, how much of this is just a ruse to just appeal to the younger voters?
During the referendum, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did outwardly at least support remaining in the EU. However, then and during the Brexit process, some have questioned his true preferred stance on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, given his track record of euroscepticism before he became Labour leader.
It was, and for many has remained, difficult to understand Labour’s precise policy regarding a possible second referendum for a long time, perhaps influenced by Corbyn’s own possible ambivalence over Brexit. On 25th February, the Labour Party seemingly swung behind backing another EU referendum. However, in the weeks since, they have engaged in fruitless negotiations with the government to reach a compromise on the withdrawal agreement bill to implement Brexit. At the local elections at the start of this month, commentators believed the lack of clarity over their stance on Brexit led to Labour losing council seats overall.
The Liberal Democrat Party
Although they don’t have the same presence as Labour or the Conservatives, the Lib Dem stance on Brexit has been consistent since the result was announced: they want a second referendum. Many Lib Dems claim that the public weren’t given enough detail on what Brexit would actually mean, and that the Leave campaign was deliberately misleading. Although this approach has been deemed by some as undemocratic, the Lib Dems would argue giving people more of a say is the opposite. They are running in the European Elections with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’.
Change UK – The Independent Group (TIG-Change UK)
Newly formed and only very recently having registered as a formal political party, this group is composed currently of former Conservative and Labour MPs. They also support a People’s Vote, adding to the crowded field from which second referendum supporters can choose from – aside from Change UK and the Lib Dems, the Green Party, Scottish National Party (SNP), Wales’s Plaid Cymru and Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party also support a second referendum. Change UK will be running in the European Elections with no logo next to their candidates’ names due to their original logo being rejected by the Electoral Commission. Last week, the party’s campaign bus visited Highfield Campus.
*NEW* – The Brexit Party
A new entrant who emerged after our Brexit magazine went to print (thanks Nigel), while this piece has focused on parties with MPs in England and Wales, it’s worth noting Farage’s new party which has no MPs currently as they look set to finish first in the European Elections. The Brexit Party has not published any manifesto as yet, but is avowedly for a no-deal Brexit and appears to have absorbed nearly all previous UKIP voters, with Farage’s old party having moved even further to the right.