On Tuesday the 12th of June, all 15 amendments the Lords made to the EU Withdrawal Bill return to the House of Commons – with only one day given over to debate and the relevant votes. While it is clear this represents a certain amount of desperation on the part of Theresa May, it is also true that the whole episode presents a notable challenge for Jeremy Corbyn as well. Namely, how does he keep a relatively hard Brexit on track without it seemingly like he’s doing so overtly, thus possibly annoying a large contingent of his fan base? In other words, how does Corbyn keep playing “the long game” when we’ve reached a critical moment in which fudging isn’t really possible any longer?
Corbyn’s answer seems to be the same as Mrs May when she is faced with the same problem: just try and fudge it anyhow. In terms of cynical moves undertaken by Labour under Corbyn’s leadership the announcement of a “Labour amendment” to the EU Withdrawal Bill, one that will try and hold the government to a post-Brexit settlement that will have the “same benefits” as being in the Single Market, marks a new all-time low. Particularly as it is being used as cover for the fact that Corbyn is going to whip an abstention on the Single Market amendment from the Lords itself, one that would probably pass the House if Corbyn whipped things the other way.
Labour’s amendment has several key problems attached to it. One is that it has no possibility of passing the House, as Tory MPs won’t vote for a Corbyn amendment to the Bill. Corbyn and his cronies are well aware of this, which is part of the point. Secondly, even if it did pass by some miracle, it is legally nonsensical. How does one measure “same benefits” exactly? What would be the quantifiable computation of when the government fell astray of this? It’s like the thing was put together by a child – and given Corbyn’s front bench has people like Charlie Falconer in it, I’m inclined to believe that this hasn’t occurred by accident. In other words, the shadow cabinet contained enough talent to come up with a good amendment, if that’s the road they wanted to go down, and they came up with something non-functional instead. I will let you draw your own conclusion from that.
As ever, I just wish Corbyn would play Brexit with a straight bat. If he wants it to happen, just say so and then explain to his followers why he thinks so. Or try and stop it, if he thinks that’s what is in Labour’s strategic interests. I have a feeling that this latest fudge is going to backfire on him, mostly because it is so transparently a fudge this time round, but also because it plays badly to both Leavers and Remainers. One thing Remainers need to do now: stop pretending Corbyn has no say on Brexit. He has it well within his power to completely change the terms of it next Tuesday. If he doesn’t, that’s down to him.