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.
Paul W says
I think what you say below is probably correct:
“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.”
It seems to me that the Corbyn Labour leadership is politically neutral – perhaps agnostic would be a better word – on the European Union: some bits they like (employment rights, human rights, environmental standards) and some bits they don’t (especially the bits about free markets, economic competition, state aid and central bankers). And I suspect they see not having a clear cut For/ Against policy stance on Brexit as a plus which leaves all options open: Why not allow the Conservatives to sort out and push through Brexit, and in the process take on all the political hassle and grief involved? The Labour party (or is “a” Labour party now?) can then step in and take over from there – wherever ‘there’ ends up – in 2022.
I am beginning to wonder if Corbyn has plucked defeat from the jaws of victory by this action. The one thing that we do not know is May’s true position when it comes to the crunch in October. Although legal opinion has it that by leaving the EU we automatically leave the EEA, as far as I know the British Government has not given the required official notice to the three non-EU EEA countries. Perhaps, she has a legal opinion in her back pocket that says we can leave the EU but stay in the EEA as opposed to negotiating to rejoin EFTA and then applying to rejoin the EEA. If we get to the final weekend of negotiations in Brussels between May and the other EU leaders it will be too late for Rees-Mogg and the ERG to act against her. EEA+CU avoids the problems with the Irish border, and removes most of the other problems; we can surely get opt-ins on air traffic, Euratom, Europol and Galileo.
Accepting the Lords’ amendment on the EEA would tie May into this at a time when Rees-Mogg and the ERG could still act against her, surely the best outcome for Corbyn.
Paul W says
And why do Remainers think Brexit will end with UK membership of the EEA+CU or some such arrangement? The campaign to cut ties with those would begin the following day.