Labour’s mistake in backing the Brexit bill | Letters

By supporting the Brexit bill, Labour has given Boris Johnson’s government a massive majority and made itself look even weaker than it did already (Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal passes into UK law, 31 December). When it was clear that the Conservatives would achieve a majority on the bill, Keir Starmer should have given a speech setting out the pros and cons of the bill (the first part should not have taken too long) and then given his MPs a free vote, with the advice to abstain. The majority would have been much smaller. And Starmer would be free to say what he liked in response to future issues. So your editorial (30 December) was wrong to say Starmer was “right to judge that Labour could not afford to be associated … with … ‘no deal’” – that was not even on the table. What was on the table was being associated with a bad deal.
David Mills
Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, East Riding of Yorkshire

• Regarding Labour’s decision to whip support for the Brexit bill, consider a simple thought experiment. A benighted government – not hard to imagine – decides to restore public hanging for petty larceny. After much debate and protest, a “listening” government proposes deportation to South Georgia instead. Right, says lawyerly Sir Keir, deportation is better than hanging, so we’ll support the South Georgia option as the lesser of two evils. That way we can “look to the future” and recoup the law-and-order vote. Wrong: you will have abdicated responsibility, abandoned principle, and alienated progressive voters. And you will have walked into another obvious Tory trap. So much for “under new management”.
Alan Knight
St Antony’s College, Oxford

• Anand Menon is surely right that while chapter 1 of the Brexit saga is closed, the Europe question hasn’t been properly posed, let alone answered (Brexit is far from done – this deal is no ‘game, set and match’, 30 December).

Disraeli said in 1844 that the “Irish question” would be tricky to answer. Even with the Good Friday agreement, it is not clear it has yet been answered. Like the Swiss, who have been negotiating their relationship with the EU in laborious one-by-one partial deals since 1993, we are entering a Brexiternity of difficulties with our continental neighbours, with Ireland, and with Scotland. This poorly negotiated and limited agreement is just the beginning of a new and tortuous era. Geography cannot be altered by a plebiscite or a vote of latter-day Canutes in parliament.
Denis MacShane
Former Europe minister

• You report that the government has temporarily waived most inbound border checks (Sector by sector: are British firms ready for post-Brexit trade?, 31 December). Having worked in HM Customs and Excise, I predict that this will turn out to be an open invitation to smugglers of drugs, firearms etc. So much for Brexit making the UK safer. As for outward goods, exporters will have to complete complex customs declarations for every consignment, estimated to cost business as much as £7bn a year. So much for freeing us from bureaucracy.
Ian Arnott
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• While parliament was still debating the Brexit bill on Wednesday, I had to fill in a customs declaration form at the post office counter to send a book to Dublin. I reckon the queues in post offices, already struggling with Covid backlogs, will soon make the lorry queues at Dover look like speedy boarding.
Gerry Rubin
Canterbury, Kent


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