Could a new Labour Party leadership have a shot at blocking Brexit?

Owen Smith is challenging both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May on the Brexit. The Labour Party will announce its new leader on Sept. 24.

Darren Staples/Reuters/File
Labour Party leader challenger Owen Smith debates with leader Jeremy Corbyn (not pictured) in a hustings event of the Labour leadership campaign in Birmingham, Britain, August 18, 2016.

Owen Smith, a legislator with Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said on Wednesday that he would seek to block the country’s exit from the European Union if his party’s members elect him for the top leadership spot.

Under his leadership, Mr. Smith said in a statement, the party would “vote in Parliament to block any attempt” to invoke a clause triggering Britain’s formal departure from the EU “until [Prime Minister] Theresa May commits to a second referendum or a general election.”

“I’m a passionate pro-European, and I will fight tooth and nail to keep us in the EU,” he said, according to the Independent.

There exists little consensus on whether a formal exit of the EU requires the consent of Parliament, though Ms. May, who also opposed leaving the EU, may indeed bring the question before legislators before invoking the clause.

“Does Brexit require an Act of Parliament? The best answer to that is, it probably now does in practice, even if not in legal theory. Parliament will be given a vote of some kind before any notification is sent,” wrote David Allen Green, a law and policy blogger for the Financial Times, adding that a parliamentary vote could put a “temporary or even a full brake” to the two-year timetable for leaving.

“Members of parliament and peers are often proud not to be 'delegates.' It is possible they will not feel bound by the referendum result. If so, the government may be placed in a situation where it is practically unable to make the notification because parliament has not been compliant.”

And as The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford noted earlier this month, much remains to be negotiated over Britain’s departure.

Firstly it has to decide how closely it wants to link Britain to the EU – and there is a wide range of argumentative opinion on that issue within the ruling Conservative Party, within the cabinet, and within the ‘Vote Leave’ movement.

Then it has to negotiate Britain’s legal separation from the Union in a two-year process that begins when London formally invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty by declaring its intention to leave. It also has to negotiate new trade and political relationships with the EU that will be critical to the country’s economic health and role in the world.

And then, as a newly independent player, it will have to negotiate new trade relations with every country in the World Trade Organization (WTO), especially those with whom the EU has Free Trade Agreements from which Britain will no longer benefit once it leaves the EU.

Smith’s pledge to mount a block of the results of the June referendum also underscores the continuing disarray created within Labour by the referendum.

Smith is challenging Labour’s current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in an election to be held next month. Mr. Corbyn retains strong support from party members, but an overwhelming majority of Labour legislators have voted for him to step down, citing his lackluster leadership in the campaign to remain in the EU. So has London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who wrote an op-ed in the Observer newspaper on Sunday announcing that he was backing Smith’s leadership.

Corbyn has taken a resigned stance toward the Brexit vote, saying Parliament had to “work with” the results, according to the BBC.

In his statement on Wednesday, Smith charged the Leave campaign with misleading the public about the consequences of a departure from the EU.

“Nobody knows what Brexit looks like. It could involve trashing workers’ rights and environmental protections, opening up our [National Health Service] up to foreign competition, making it harder for us to trade with our neighbors and damaging our economy,” he said, according to Reuters.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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