Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had this to say about Labour’s approach to Article 50 being triggered by parliament:
“Article 50, if it is going to be triggered, we will not get in the way of it, but we will try and amend the legislation in order to ensure that they keep coming back, that we keep an eye on them. And, if necessary, there will be hand-to-hand combat on this.”
How can you “not get in the way” of something while simultaneously engaging in “hand-to-hand combat” on the same issue? I genuinely do not understand what Labour’s approach is to what is the defining subject of our times.
Let’s look at other parties position on this. The Tories want to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible to get the ball rolling on the negotiations – that’s clear as day. The SNP want to block the triggering of Article 50 by any means necessary – again, obviously coherent. The Lib Dems have some red lines they know won’t be met, so they are essentially blocking Article 50 by any means necessary too – so it’s a little muddled, but no one is confused as to what they are trying to achieve. UKIP’s position I find slightly confusing: they either can’t wait for Article 50 to be triggered or they don’t think it should be triggered ever, preferring to revoke the 1972 Act and tell the EU to get stuffed.
But UKIP is being a model of transparent clarity on this compared to Labour. Labour HQ’s press office put out a statement that Labour will seek to keep Britain in the single market – only to retract the statement a few hours later. Given that Corbyn has already said that he will whip his MPs to vote for triggering Article 50, why would May take any of Labour’s amendments seriously? There has to be a threat to May of losing the vote to take any amendment to a bill she wants to get through the Commons as quickly as possible seriously at all, so given Labour has removed this threat already, what are they playing at with this “hand-to-hand combat” rhetoric?
I realise they are in a tough spot on this issue. But they are not being coherent – at all. And I don’t just mean different parts of the party are contradicting what other bits of it are saying about Article 50 (although that is happening as well), I mean that the leadership keeps contradicting itself on the topic, often, as we saw with the Thornberry quote above, in the course of two back to back sentences.
If Corbyn came out and said he was pro-Brexit, that would be such an improvement in regards to the clarity of Labour’s position. But he won’t do it because he fears what that will do to the Labour vote in London. So on they plough, threatening to be street fighters while in the same breath promising not to get in the way.