As I’ve said before, trying to make sense of Labour’s position on Brexit has been all but impossible. Now there’s a new twist. Both the Tories and Labour are claiming victory in regards to last week’s vote in the Commons regarding leaving the EU: the Tories say that the prime minister managed to extract a confirmation from Labour in regards to the March timetable; Labour are saying that they forced the Tories to publish what those plans actually will be before a vote triggering Article 50 can take place. On first glance, it looks more like a Tory victory; the government has to have a basic outline of their negotiating position before triggering Article 50 anyhow, and getting Labour to commit to the March timing puts the latter party in a difficult position. If they vote down triggering A50 in the new year, Labour risk looking like they are indeed trying to stop Brexit from happening, regardless of how this is framed. This could play badly in a lot of Labour seats.
Labour is trying to frame this as all about staying in the single market now (moving on from where they were around Labour conference time, with Corbyn ridiculously claiming we should leave the single market but retain freedom of movement). If Labour really are determined to not vote to trigger Article 50 unless the government commits to remaining in the single market, things could get interesting. With May’s thin majority, it would take but a small handful of rebels on the Tory benches to have May’s timetable thrown off course, potentially drastically.
There are so many potential twists and turns in this particular saga, it is hard to know even how to narrow them all down. The government could just say they’ll try and get single market access, knowing that they are entering into a fluid negotiation in which it isn’t their fault if the EU won’t give them single market access in the end. But this would then look like a climb down by the government, so best avoided. Labour could be distracted by Theresa May simply using the Jedi mind trick on Corbyn, which has worked a lot throughout the last year. Labour could also suddenly decide they think this is bad idea and chicken out; they could try and whip it only to find a sizeable rebellion from many of their MPs in Leave majority seats, enough to wipe out May’s rebellion on her own benches.
Given the enormity of the issue and what it means for the future of the country and the future of both the Conservative and Labour parties, this is the one to watch in early 2017. If the Tories are forced to put Article 50 to a vote in the Commons as a result of the Supreme Court judgement, and that vote results in a loss for the triggering of the article, watch all hell break loose.