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Labour Party Backs Corbyn's Wait-and-See Approach: Brexit Update

Alex Morales, Kitty Donaldson and Robert Hutton

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The U.K.’s opposition Labour Party voted to back leader Jeremy Corbyn’s wait-and-see Brexit policy after divisions between senior politicians overshadowed its annual conference. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in New York, where he’s holding discussions with European leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Supreme Court will rule on Johnson’s suspension of Parliament on Tuesday.

Key Developments:

Labour delegates opted for Corbyn’s preferred policy on Brexit -- to secure a second referendum and decide how to campaign laterSupreme Court to rule on suspension of Parliament at 10:30 a.m. on TuesdayEconomy spokesman John McDonnell says Labour MPs should be given a free vote on any Brexit deal the party negotiates with the EU if it comes to powerJohnson says EU leaders should recognize he’s shifted on Brexit

Starmer Warns Johnson Over Brexit Law (8:30 pm)

Boris Johnson must obey the law passed by Parliament to block a no-deal Brexit or face the consequences, Keir Starmer, the Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, told Bloomberg TV.

"Doesn’t it tell you everything you need to know about Boris Johnson that his first instinct when a law is passed is to attempt to break the law?" Starmer told Bloomberg TV on Monday. "If he does try to do that, he’s going to run into problems in the courts and he’s going to run into problems in Parliament.”

Starmer said the act passed by Parliament is "very very simple."

“If you haven’t got a deal through or agreement for no-deal by Oct. 19, then you’ve got to apply for an extension" to Brexit talks, Starmer said. "If he doesn’t do that, then he can be sure there will be legal proceedings and he can be sure that there will be proceedings in Parliament."

Starmer ‘Disappointed’ by Labour Vote on Brexit (7 p.m.)

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said he was “disappointed” by the party’s vote to reject a Brexit policy explicitly backing staying in the European Union. But he said the party has come a long way in the past year in evolving its Brexit policy, and suggested the result might not matter in the long run.

“Obviously I’m disappointed by the result,” Starmer said at a Politico event on the sidelines of the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Monday. “Would I have liked us to go a bit further and won the vote today? Of course I would.”

Starmer reiterated his stance that if there were a second referendum, he’d campaign for Remain. He said Monday’s vote shouldn’t deter Remain-backing voters because “the Labour Party membership is so overwhelmingly in favor of Remain that it’s very obvious where we’re going to end up.”

London Mayor Khan Criticizes Labour Decision (6:50 p.m.)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has criticized the Labour Party conference decision to reject an unambiguous policy to stay in the European Union in favor of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s wait-and-see approach (see 5:45 p.m.).

“I do not believe this decision reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of Labour members who desperately want to stop Brexit,” Khan, a Labour Party member, said on Twitter. “Labour IS a Remain party.”

Johnson Urges EU to Recognize He’s Moved on Brexit (6 p.m.)

In New York, where he’s due to meet other European Union leaders, Boris Johnson said they should recognize that he’s compromised on Brexit and move to meet him.

Asked what he wanted from this week’s talks, the prime minister told ITV News: “A broader understanding of quite how forward looking and forward-leaning the U.K. has been with our suggestions.”

He cited his proposal of an all-Ireland zone for phytosanitary standards -- essentially checks on plants and livestock for pests and disease. “That, we think, is a helpful suggestion. I hope that colleagues will see that that’s a concession we’re making,” he said.

Labour Conference Backs Corbyn on Brexit (5:45 p.m.)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won the backing of Labour Conference for his wait-and-see policy on Brexit (see 3:15 p.m.) in a show of hands following a debate in Brighton, southeast England.

A motion that would have committed the party to “campaign energetically” for Remain in a repeat referendum on Brexit was defeated amid angry scenes in the hall. Some demanded a “card vote,” which would have seen all votes recorded, but the conference chairwoman ruled that the vote using a show of hands was clear.

Labour’s plan is now to win an election, negotiate a new deal with the EU and hold a referendum -- with the party deciding to campaign for Remain or the deal it has negotiated at a special conference.

Starmer Pledges Plebiscite in Six months (5:25 p.m.)

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer promised an incoming Labour government would hold a referendum soon after taking office.

It would “legislate immediately for that referendum to take place. It will take place as soon as possible -- and no later than six months from a Labour government taking office,” Starmer told delegates at the Labour conference. “I have a very simple message today: If you want a referendum -- vote Labour. If you want a final say on Brexit -- vote Labour. If you want to fight for Remain -- vote Labour. Labour will let the people decide.”

Starmer said he and colleagues are ready to stop Prime Minister Boris Johnson breaking a law passed by Parliament to block a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31.

Debate Opens With Reference to Murdered Cox (3:30 p.m.)

Delegates at the Labour conference have started debating the party’s policy on Brexit and in the second speech heard a reference to Jo Cox, the Labour lawmaker who was murdered during the 2016 referendum campaign.

The speech, by a delegate from the GMB union, set the tone for an emotion-charged series of interventions by delegates.

“Let’s not forget what unites us,” Richard Corbett, leader of Labour’s delegation in the European Parliament told delegates in a plea for unity. “We all oppose Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit.” He then went on to call for the party to support remaining in the EU.

Labour’s Brexit Options Narrowed to Three (3:15 p.m.)

Labour delegates will vote shortly on three different Brexit policies -- and it’s not impossible that all three will pass, potentially handing the party’s leadership contradictory instructions.

One vote will be on a statement by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, in essence endorsing Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit. That means winning an election, negotiating a deal with the EU, then holding a referendum pitching the deal versus Remain -- but postponing a decision on which side to support until after the deal terms are known. It’s an attempt to balance the interests of Leave and Remain supporters, but has angered prominent pro-EU figures in the party.

Another vote will be on a motion that closely resembles the NEC statement, but without specifically mentioning delaying the decision.

The third motion calls for Labour to immediately become the party of Remain, pledging to hold a second referendum and campaign unambiguously to stay in the European Union. If this is the only motion that passes, Corbyn will be under pressure to immediately shift his stance having pledged to adhere to the decision of the Labour membership. What happens if two or all three motions pass is much less clear.

Ireland Not in Mood for Border Compromise (2:34 p.m.)

Ireland won’t accept a “halfway house” on how the Irish border will be managed after Brexit, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in New York.

Varadkar reiterated that Ireland and the EU need legally-binding assurances on any arrangement that would replace the backstop, adding that while he is not currently scheduled to meet German leader Angela Merkel while at the UN, he does expect to speak to her before October’s summit.

Barnier Is Not Seeing Grounds for a Breakthrough (2:11 p.m.)

On a visit to Berlin, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, offered a bleak outlook for any prospective resolution on the so-called backstop. Johnson’s government wants to scrap the legally airtight border solution, he said, and “change the way the internal market and border controls operate.”

“As I am sure you will understand, this is unacceptable,” Barnier told reporters alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

The state of play is not good, he added.

“Let me therefore put it clearly. Based on current U.K. thinking, it is difficult to see how we can arrive at a legally operative solution, which fulfills all the objectives of the backstop.”

Business Says Labour Plans Add to Brexit Pain (1:35 p.m.)

Business groups criticized Labour’s plan to cut working hours and other policies, urging the opposition party to work with corporate Britain to achieve its wider goals. The biggest industry lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, said Labour should ground its policies in “reality, not ideology.”

“The inclusive ownership fund grabs headlines, but would amount to a tax on workers, pensions and savings,” Confederation of British Industry Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said in a statement, suggesting a 32-hour working week could push businesses into a loss. “Add these ideas to mass re-nationalization, rising business taxes and ongoing Brexit uncertainty, and we risk hanging a closed sign on the door of our open economy.”

British Chambers of Commerce Director-General Adam Marshall said that “Labour should be reaching for the carrot rather than the stick in its approach to business and economic growth.”

Supreme Court Ruling Due on Tuesday (1:20 p.m.)

The U.K.’s top judges will rule Tuesday morning on whether Boris Johnson acted lawfully when he suspended Parliament.

If the Supreme Court finds Johnson suspended Parliament illegally, he could be forced to recall the legislature, giving opponents of a no-deal Brexit time to thwart his plans to leave by Oct. 31. The announcement will come at 10:30 a.m.

Labour Pledges to Cut Working Week (12:15 p.m.)

The Labour Party would cut the average working week to 32 hours with no loss of pay within a decade, if elected into power, Treasury spokesman John McDonnell said in his speech to the party’s conference.

Labour will set up a Working Time Commission to make recommendations on increasing statutory leave requirements and would opt out of the European Time Directive, he said.

A Labour-commissioned study published earlier this month rejected the idea of a French-style cap on work time. Instead, economist Robert Skidelsky said the aim should be to reduce hours for public-sector employees to 35 hours per week in a decade, through a policy of investment in automation and efficiency.

McDonnell Calls for End to Brexit Division (12:10 p.m.)

Ahead of a debate on the party’s position on Brexit later Monday, Treasury spokesman John McDonnell used his keynote speech to tell delegates he will campaign to remain in the European Union after Labour has sought its own deal with the bloc.

“We aim to trust the people in having the final say on Brexit. A deal or Remain,” he said. “Some of you will know I have said I will campaign for remain, but let me make it clear that I profoundly respect those who support a genuine alternative.”

“In our debates today I want us to demonstrate in the respect we show each other and how we bring our party together just how we can also bring the country together again,” he said.

McCluskey ‘Implores’ Party to Back Leader (11:25 a.m.)

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, told Labour delegates: “I implore you, please give Jeremy the support he needs later” after the conference was dominated by in-fighting and rival union Unison said it wouldn’t support leader Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit (see 11 a.m.).

McCluskey, who denies he was involved in an attempt to depose Deputy Leader Tom Watson at the weekend, called on the party to support Corbyn. “From Brexit to the banks, the country needs a united Labour voice,” he said.

More Trouble Ahead for Corbyn on Brexit (11:00 a.m.)

There were indications that the Brexit votes at the Labour conference could go against party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday afternoon.

The delegation from the trade union Unison, one of the biggest funders of the party, decided at a meeting on Monday morning that they will vote for a motion saying the party should commit to backing Remain in any referendum on a Brexit deal negotiated with the EU by a future Labour government (see 8:25 a.m.).

They will abstain on the motion backing the leadership’s plan not to say how it would vote in the referendum until it sees the terms of the agreement and will vote against the statement from the party’s ruling National Executive Committee endorsing Corbyn’s position.

Jon Lansman, leader of the Momentum grassroots activists group, also said the way the NEC came to its decision was a “travesty” and said members should vote as they choose. “On conference floor members should feel free to vote with their conscience,” he wrote on Twitter.

Hancock: Brexit Deal ‘More Likely Than Not’ (9:55 a.m.)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC radio a deal is now “more likely than not” due to the shifting stance of the European Union on renegotiating the withdrawal agreement.

“I think the penny is starting to drop on the continent that since they don’t want a no-deal exit, the way to avoid the no-deal exit is for the EU to offer a deal that can get through Parliament,” Hancock said on Monday. “The debate is on what changes and the details that need to change and getting rid of the backstop.”

U.K. Business Warns of ‘Messy’ Brexit Risk (9:20 a.m.)

With the chance of a no-deal Brexit still hanging over corporate Britain, business lobby groups are banging the drum for certainty.

Companies are facing “the potential for a messy and disorderly exit on Oct. 31,” British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall said in a Bloomberg TV interview at the Labour Conference in Brighton.

“We’ve already got businesses who are sending goods around the world for example, that don’t know what trading conditions those goods will arrive at port under,” he said. ‘These uncertainties are very, very real; we’ve got to get to a conclusion.”

Businesses “need to know some very basic things about the trading conditions that they face,” he said. “They want all of the political parties, Labour included, to come together and deliver that.”

Labour Plan Could Unite Country, McDonnell Says (8:40 a.m.)

Jeremy Corbyn’s compromise Brexit plan that seeks to satisfy both Remain and Leave voters, is the best to unite the country and party, according to John McDonnell, Labour’s Treasury spokesman.

“The way in which Jeremy Corbyn is managing it is I think the one way we can heal some of the divisions that there are in our community at the moment,” McDonnell said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

McDonnell, who has said he would probably support Remain in another referendum, dismissed Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s suggestion that supporting remain offers the party its clearest path to power. McDonnell said the issue has moved beyond party politics.

Labour is meeting almost daily with MPs from rival parties in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, he said.

Labour’s Brexit Motions Show Party Divide (8:25 a.m.)

The Labour Party will hold votes Monday on two Brexit motions that illustrate the divisions over whether the party should unequivocally back remaining in the European Union.

The first option says a second referendum pitching Remain against “a credible leave option” is “the only way to resolve Brexit,” saying the party should take a clear position to “campaign energetically for a public vote and to stay in the EU in that referendum.”

The second option echoes leader Jeremy Corbyn’s position, prioritizing the fight to block a no-deal Brexit and commending the party leadership for trying to bridge the divide between Remain and Leave voters. The motion also calls for a second referendum with both Remain and a “credible” Leave option on the ballot paper -- but stays silent on how the party should campaign.

McDonnell: MPs Should Get Free Vote on Brexit (8 a.m.)

Labour Treasury spokesman John McDonnell said senior Labour Party figures should be given a free vote on any Brexit deal they negotiate with the EU if they get into power.

McDonnell laughed off a suggestion by Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey that shadow cabinet members, including Emily Thornberry, should step aside if they don’t agree with leader Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit.

McDonnell reiterated in a series of media interviews that he would probably campaign to remain in the European Union, and said others would take a different view and should be allowed to express that.

It’s the latest sign that Corbyn is struggling to keep his party together over Brexit as he tries to strike a balance to avoid alienating pro-Brexit voters. Prominent Labour politicians, including Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, foreign affairs spokeswoman Thornberry and deputy leader Tom Watson, are pushing for unambiguous support for staying in the EU.

Earlier:

Johnson Takes Bid for Brexit Deal to New York as Clock Runs DownU.K. Labour Pledges to Fund Elderly Care as Brexit Splits HardenJohnson Zeroes In on Directors’ Role After Thomas Cook Failure

--With assistance from Stuart Biggs, Anna Edwards, Thomas Penny, Jessica Shankleman, Peter Flanagan and Patrick Donahue.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in Brighton, England at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Kitty Donaldson in Brighton, England at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in New York at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny

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