Jim O’Neill says Labour’s internal divisions mirror the divisions in the country over Brexit, and backs calls for a second referendum on the Brexit deal.


Let me be clear from the start. I am a Remoaner. I voted to remain part of the European Union, and I would support any decision to give another voice to the people now that we know the cost of Brexit. People, who were misled grievously by the Brexiteers in the original referendum, can change their minds.

I am also a veteran (I hate that word) of nearly 40 years standing in the Labour Party. I understand that dispute is built into the DNA of the party as to how we will build the new Jerusalem, since the earliest days when James Keir Hardie set up the Independent Labour Party as distinct from the newly formed Labour Party. I came into the party as a result of the election of Margaret Thatcher, at a time when the party was split between Tony Benn and Denis Healey as Deputy Leader (a split much closer than now), carried on through the fight against the radical left in the eighties, did not vote for Blair as leader and opposed his swing to the right, and now am dismayed by the proliferation of groups, both Scottish and nationally.

Maybe I am wishing for too much that these groups learn the lessons of the past in that they only fuel the anti-Labour media’s obsession with Labour splits. By briefing against each other they allow the message to be lost among the fluff of personal agendas. The national manifesto last year was one of the best I have ever read, and, having heard Richard at our constituency his agenda is very similar, but both are driven by the views of members. This is why Scottish Conference is dominated by areas where Richard wanted to test the views of members.

Jeremy Corbyn tried to get this across last year to interviewers who were not interested in the policies but only in how different they were from positions he had taken in the past. Jeremy insisted that, while he is the leader of the party, he is the servant of the members. Richard has a similar view and I trust that all those using social media remember that, and also their responsibility to promote the policies of the party. If we continue to wash our dirty linen in public, we will wait forever for the people of Scotland to trust us with Government.

Such a situation also marks the relationship between the Scottish and Westminster governments. Both sides are determined to find things that divide them, rather than anything they can agree on. Despite having no responsibility for Brexit, the Scottish Government put a spurious Brexit bill before the Parliament. Negotiation by megaphone! And at the same time, Theresa May indulged in a similar approach in her speech on Friday, refusing to accept anything other than a total break from the Single Market and the Customs Union, despite the EU negotiators pointing out the damage this will do to our economy.

It is about time people took a rational approach to this conundrum. Clearly May’s proposals are not acceptable to the EU, particularly what will happen with the Irish Border. By the way, I do not hear any proposals from the DUP, who are effectively keeping May in power. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taioseach, has made it clear that he will not accept a hard border, and it takes all 27 remaining countries to agree the final outcome.

Perhaps the best outcome will be for Labour, the SNP and the Tory Europhiles to amend the Brexit bill that it is no longer acceptable to Mrs May causing that the bill to be withdrawn and parliament to face the horror of a no deal Brexit. Very few will be happy about that and then a new referendum bill could be introduced. I am sure that the EU will allow us to put the Brexit timetable on hold to see if we can reverse our mass lemming impulse. But then, am I a splitter too?