UPDATE 9/4/2018: full transcript & audio of Barry Gardiner’s answer to question on Northern Ireland border at Rosa Luxemburg Foundation event on 20 March 2018
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner described the Good Friday agreement as a ‘shibboleth’ at a private meeting of MEPs in Brussels last month.
Dismissing the significance of the historic Northern Ireland peace pact ahead of its 20th anniversary on Tuesday, Gardiner said it should be ignored during the Brexit negotiations.
He went on to rubbish the six tests set by shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer as “meaningless” and unsuitable as a measure of whether Labour should vote for or against the Tory Brexit deal. He then told MEPs that if they voted against any Brexit deal Theresa May negotiated with the EU27 they would be voting to make Jacob Rees Mogg Prime Minister.
Gardiner was speaking at a seminar organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Stifung – the thinktank of Die Linke, the party that grew out of the remnants of East Germany’s former ruling Communists. The audience – visibly shocked – included Brian Carty, a senior adviser to Sinn Féin (whose MEPs sit with Die Linke in the European Parliament) as well as senior figures in Momentum.
This revelation comes after Labour’s embattled pro-Europeans were left horrified when Emily Thornberry told the Chatham House think-tank that Labour would vote for what she called a “blah, blah, blah” Brexit because the Tories’ withdrawal deal meant that Starmer’s tests would be met by a transition deal that postponed all the hard decisions for another 20 months.
Many in the PLP thought this amounted to little more than letting the Tory hard core Brexiters, who want to fudge all the hard issues, especially Northern Ireland, get away with it.
Starmer was quick to distance himself from Thornberry – despite having himself said much the same when dismissing the Brexit day of 29 March 2019 as merely “technical” Brexit and behind the scenes there were arguments in the whatsapp groups of pro-European MPs over whether to take the former DPP at his word or to increase the pressure on the Labour front bench to declare their opposition to any sort of Tory deal.
For now it looks like Starmer has won, as beyond Chuka Umunna’s heavy-hitting
assault on Thornberry most Labour MPs were quiet. A few eyebrows were raised, though, at John McDonnell’s excusing of the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s remarks as the sarcastic comments of a tired front bench spokeswoman – the video shows them to be anything but off-hand. In any case, Thornberry’s remarks were positively mild compared to those delivered by Gardiner.
It would appear that Gardiner’s comments are a clear breach of shadow cabinet collective responsibility on brexit, the reason given for Owen Smith’s removal from the front bench. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may now come under pressure from MPs to demonstrate even-handed justice.