Every Monday when parliament is in session, in the early evenings, the parliamentary Labour Party meets for a chat. These get togethers have been witness to some explosive moments over the past few years – moderate MPs leaving f-ing and blinding, sometimes leaving nuggets for the assorted hacks outside to chew over – but the meeting held last night may be one for the history books.
Corbyn and his inner circle, combined with Eurosceptic Labour MPs of a non-Corbyn flavour such as John Mann, combined to try and kill the idea of Labour voting for the Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would keep the UK in the EEA post-Brexit. It now looks highly likely that Labour MPs will either be asked to abstain, or even possibly whipped to vote against the amendment.
This opens up several interesting possibilities. If abstention is called for, it will be notable to see how many Labour MPs defy this and vote for the amendment anyhow. If it is ten, this is no big deal for Corbyn; if its fifty, it starts to look a little worrying; if it is over a hundred, Corbyn could be in a tricky situation. This wouldn’t be like when moderates voted to intervene in Syria; here is an issue, perhaps the only major one, in which the moderates and the Labour membership are fully aligned. Voting for the amendment in numbers would highlight Coryn’s Euroscepticism to his core crowd to a degree he might find uncomfortable. At the very least, he’d have to be very careful about how he reacted to this rebellion.
Of course, the more interesting situation is if there are a lot of rebellions on the Tory side as well. If Labour abstained and a hundred PLP members voted for the amendment, it would take surprisingly few Tory MPs to carry it through. If that happened, we’d be in a whole different political world than the one we are now in, with both May and Corbyn in serious trouble all of a sudden. But alas, this is unlikely to happen.
When the amendment goes before the House, I expect the Labour frontbench to abstain and a small collection, perhaps thirty to forty Labour backbenchers, to vote for the amendment, and a handful, or even just Ken Clarke, to vote for it on the Tory side. It will thus be defeated easily. This will cause Labour to move down another level into the abyss – yet there seems to be infinite levels to this crisis on the Left, so that means little in the immediate term. But if I’m wrong and the amendment passes even with Labour having tried to force an abstention, get ready folks: the fireworks are on.