In the Parliamentary vote on the Tories' Brexit deal, 30 December 2020, 39 Labour MPs (including two for now excluded from the Labour whip) defied Labour leader Keir Starmer's whip to vote for the deal.
Three Labour front-benchers resigned in protest at Starmer's line.
The Labour rebels abstained, all but one who voted against the deal (Bell Ribeiro-Addy). Our understanding is that the rebels had decided in advance on a collective position of abstaining to distance themselves from a possible right-wing Tory vote against the deal and for "no deal". In fact all the Tory right-wingers backed the deal.
In the days and hours before the vote, hundreds of Labour activists had signed a statement protesting at the plan for Labour to back the Tories' Brexit deal.
UK and EU officials had announced a Brexit deal on Thursday 24 December.
The document, some 2,000 pages, has been vetted by every EU government. It came into operation "provisionally" on 1 January 2021 and is to be ratified by the European Parliament later in January.
As George Parker of the Financial Times commented when the deal was done, it's "the first trade deal in history where barriers go up, not down". Whatever the detail, though, Parker reckoned it would be taken as "great news for business after months of uncertainty". Almost anything better than "no deal".
The labour movement should not wearily accept a deal way short of meeting the "tests" we have proposed, or accept that the only choice was this Tory deal or "no deal".
As the Blairite Andrew Adonis, of all people, said, "Johnson [was] spinning negotiations out until the last minute in order to dodge scrutiny".
The Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had called on 21 December for a delay to Brexit, an extension of the transition period.
Scottish prime minister Nicola Sturgeon made a similar call.
Labour for a Socialist Europe has been campaigning for that extension since March, arguing that proper democratic scrutiny of a Brexit deal would be impossible mid-pandemic.
With the new variant of the virus, the case became even clearer.
Finalising a Brexit deal in late December was like carrying out a delicate medical operation while navigating a narrow and slippery bridge, in the dark and in a storm.
Labour leader Keir Starmer did not support Khan's 21 December call. In fact, he has specifically rejected it. "I say to the Prime Minister, get on and deliver the deal that you promised... this week, today, tomorrow..." And after he went for whipping Labour MPs to vote for the Tory deal.
Perhaps Starmer wants to placate or appeal to people exasperated by the Tories' multiple goings-to-the-brink, deadlines, and swerves over the last four and a half years. It makes as little sense as telling someone impatient about a delayed medical operation (and one which you yourself think certain to be damaging rather than helpful, even in the best version) that they should support it being done straight off, by an amateur surgeon without good supervision, in a storm, in the dark, on dangerous terrain.
The Brexiters failed to negotiate a deal over four and a half years, until the very last minute, because it is impossible to get what they want - full license to cut social and environmental standards below EU levels, and raise barriers high against people moving between here and the EU, together with smooth trade flows. They went to the brink in negotiations again and again in order to squeeze out the nearest approximation to their impossible demands.
The EU has conceded much, giving the Tories license to cut some standards with only a proviso that if they do it too much then tariffs may be put on British exports.
Labour was wrong to back a deal on that basis. It was wrong to allow the Tories to try to blackmail Labour by saying "approve this crap deal, because otherwise it's no deal! No time to consider alternatives!" Even if we couldn't actually stop the Tory deal in late December, we could raise a voice against it.
By December, a clear majority - 49%-39% on an average of polls - thought that Brexit was a mistake. Polls said that in a new vote, "stay out" and "apply to rejoin the EU" would be neck-and-neck.