As the country contemplates “to leave or not to leave”, Corbyn’s position may just become an irrelevance

by Rob Marchant

December has been a mad, rollercoaster month for British politics. The first half brought a good couple of weeks for Remainers. There were the three Commons defeats for May; and then the government’s own legal advice was finally published, which said that the Irish border question is essentially insoluble within any kind of Brexit. I mean, who knew?

And then there was the European Court of Justice ruling, saying that Article 50 was unilaterally cancellable by Britain. This means, as John Rentoul noted, a referendum is now more likely.

Then the vote on May’s deal was postponed and the PM herself survived a no-confidence vote from her Tory party colleagues. Though it was painted as bad news for her by the media, it also weakened the Moggite fringe on the right of her party, who underestimated her support and were made to look silly. It also still means she is not leaving No. 10 any time soon, not at least without a general election – which now looks unlikely after Corbyn’s crying off from a parliamentary no-confidence vote, an altogether different level of bad.

It is hard not to see all this as something of a victory for Remainers and moderate Leavers. But where does it leave us?

If there is a People’s Vote, the key thing, as always with referenda, is the question.

May has made it clear that there are three options: Remain, Chequers and No Deal. But Many commentators seem to miss the fact that a three-way referendum would be highly unlikely to be practical: it would both lack legitimacy and further run the risk that the public didn’t actually get what it wanted – and everyone would be unhappy. No, a referendum must surely have two clear options and so one must be taken off the table. But which?

  1. Remain vs Chequers: Remain wins, as YouGov’s polling shows.
  2. No Deal vs Chequers: unlikely to happen. A People’s Vote can only really become a reality if the pendulum has swung towards Remain – that is, if the government suffers public pressure to do so.
  3. Remain vs No Deal: if a parliamentary vote happens first, Chequers loses and there is a last-minute swing to Remain, it could be that this becomes the vote. In the end, no-one knows what would happen, because it is not the same as the hypothetical vote polled for here in a three-way poll. Removal of one option would probably affect the other two. Even then, Leave vs. Remain is still roughly 50-50, as it was back in 2016. One can’t help feeling that, if No Deal were the only option, some Leavers would back away and it only takes a few per cent to swing things for Remain.

If there is no People’s Vote, the deal will be decided simply by Parliament and whether May’s deal stands or falls. If it goes through (spoiler: it probably won’t), then there will probably be sufficient legitimacy to proceed with it and we get Brexit, although not the worst kind of Brexit. If it falls, then we are back at point 3 above but without the referendum.

Would we simply crash out in that case? We could, but one suspects there would be a huge public outcry at that point and that, as a result, pressure for a People’s Vote could still make it happen.

In the context of all that, we might now contemplate Corbyn’s position.

After Corbyn’s finally “coming out” as a Brexiteer in his Guardian interview last week, he is now even losing support from many in his base: from both the perennial soft-left and the bright-eyed young folk who propelled him to the leadership (the third sub-faction, old Trots from the 1980s, are Eurosceptics anyway).

Now, it is tempting to say that he will never support a People’s Vote, so it will never happen. Many Westminster commentators are saying just that. But Brexit is more important than a mere party whip, and especially on behalf of a leader whose politics is anyway a blip in the history of the party.

Most MPs are playing their cards close to their chest, but they would surely be more brave if national polls were supporting them. Certainly very few have come out against a People’s Vote. 215 of them campaigned for Remain, when hardly anything was known about the impact of leaving. It is now.

And, although the makeup changed in 2017, it is certain that most are still pro-Remain. Moreover, the party membership is behind them, so very few would risk deselection on this issue. And despite the pernicious effect of Momentum on the party in general, its most vitriolic campaigns to oust sitting MPs have been directed at Leavers, not Remainers.

So, why would that silent, Remainer majority of MPs not simply ignore Corbyn, when push came to shove? In other words, who in Labour wants to be remembered as someone who stuck slavishly to the whip, when it went against their beliefs on the most important issue of Britain’s postwar history?

There is still time: it seems clear that the EU would extend the March deadline, if asked. And the “people have spoken” argument will be cold comfort for the coming few years of (at the very least, short-term) economic misery that even the most optimistic Leave politicians are predicting for their constituents.

We must then hope then that it is caution, and not spinelessness, that drives Labour MPs to keep their counsel on the People’s Vote. That is, there is still time, but it is short.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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7 Responses to “As the country contemplates “to leave or not to leave”, Corbyn’s position may just become an irrelevance”

  1. Anne says:

    It is now known that the 2016 Referendum was corrupted (Aaron Banks money, data interference, Russian meddling) and people talk about ‘democracy’ and we, as a country, point the superior finger at other countries about corruption. Apparently Mrs May does know of the corruption but, as she has been the beneficiary of the outcome in that she became PM, she chooses to ignore it. We are now left with a stubborn, robotic PM taking us down a pathway leading us to making our country poorer in so many ways. We now know so much more than we did in 2016. Also, I believe the media have a lot to answer for in the way they present their biased information. No wonder newspaper readership is declining- it really is time some of these deadwood ‘hacks’ were given their p45s.

  2. Alf says:

    The Tory-lite Labour members will soon set up their own party to fight for Remain and further privatisations. They will be tough on the unemployed and immigrants. But they won’t gain many seats under first-past-the post.

  3. Tafia says:

    Oh dear God. That so-called intelligent people are still believing in fairies and ignoring reality.

    We are leaving in 98 days time. You have known that for over two years. If you haven’t prepared for the No Deal scenarion – which is the default setting, then that is your fault and no one elses.

    First of all, there is no majority in the HoC for a second referendum. Among those who do favour one, there is no majority for what the question should be. Electoral Commission guidelines say a referendum can only consist of one straightforward question with two straightforward answers – no multiple choice or multiple tier. As you go through all the possible variants based on what the Electoral Commission say, the only choice you end up with is either a one-off Leave with the Deal on offer or Leave with No Deal. The only other workable is to have a re-run of leave v Remain, and if Leave wins then a couple of weeks later a follow-up of Deal on Offer v No Deal. (Believe it or not, the two referendum idea is quite popular with Jo Johnson and a cross party small group). A resolution of the House demanding one? Not enough to provide the statutory basis for a referendum as the law stands. Or to stop Brexit for that matter. The Withdrawal Act needs to be repealed for that. A legislative measure? Through what procedure? When was the last time legislation was passed via any non-government procedure in the face of government opposition (or in the face of any opposition if not given government time)? People need to get their heads round the fact that it doesn’t matter if there is no majority in the Commons for no deal. No deal doesn’t need a Commons majority. It’s the default option as the law stands. It needs to be actively stopped. By some procedure that actually exists in our constitution.

    But what of Remain being on the ballot? It’s already been on once and defeated and – the EU has moved on since then so we can’t actually Remain as per 2016, nor can we Remain as now – the EU constantly evolves. And consider that after two years of constant pressure by Remain/Peoples Vote (remember – PV is largely funded by tax exiles, multi-millionaires etc) and nothing by Leave, all Remain has manged is to hold it not much different to two years ago. In a second vote, Leave will be actively campaigning, Remain will have nothing new to say and the government position will be Leave – meaning that a letter will be sent to every household in the country, paid for by the tax-payer, supporting the Leave position. That’s an extra £9M of funding that won’t count against the campaign funds.

    What if the result mirrored last time? What then? What if it was the exact opposite of last time? What then?

    What if the people decide something that Parliament disagrees with? Are MPs going to honour it? And if so then why aren’t they honouring it now?

    We had a referendum in 2016 LEAVE won, Then we had a General Election in 2017, The Tories and Labour stood on promising to LEAVE the EU, inc;luding both the Single Markjet and the Customs Union, whereas the Lib Dems campaigned to stay. Tories and Labour got record numbers of votes and the Lib Dems got anhilated. There is no need for any further referenda. HYands up who voted Labour thinking that they were lying when they said they would honour the referendum result?

    And stop saying ‘Crash Out’ or ‘Cliff Edge’ – there no such thing. No Deal means we just adopt WTO terms regarding the EU. The government has already unilaterally sorted the issue of EU migrants currently here. The CAA has already repeatedly stated over and over and over that it’s complete and utter bollocks that the planes won’t fly.(hands up who is thick enough to believe that?). The streets will not be littered with dead diabetics (the NHS has already said it can cope – hands up who thinks the NHS is lying?). There will be no shortage of food.

    Ports? Just over a week ago, the government and the EU signed an agreement to extend the CTC even in a No Deal scenario.

    Gibraltar? The day after the CTC agreement, the UK, Spain and the EU signed an agreement that the Gibraltan/Spanish frontier would remain as now no matter what the ‘deal’ outcome is.

    And both of those were done in a week that the Guardian triumphantly misreported (some would say lied) that no talks were taking place between the EU and the UK, when they quite clearly were.

    Irish land border? Oh dear, Red Herring. The UK position is enshrined in law in an Act of Parliament that was ennobled three months ago. BY LAW the UK will not impose a hard border on the island of Ireland on it’s side of the border:-
    “(2) Nothing in section 7, 8, 9 or 17 of this Act authorises regulations which—

    (a) diminish any form of North-South cooperation across the full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of co-operation, including the continued operation of the North-South implementation bodies, or
    (b) create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature:-
    (i) physical infrastructure, including border posts,
    (ii) a requirement for customs or regulatory compliance checks,
    (iii) a requirement for security checks,
    (iv) random checks on goods vehicles,

    (v) any other checks and controls,that did not exist before exit day and are not subject to an agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union.”

    And as for stuff crossing the Irish Sea “We are not going to be putting up any extra barriers or borders – we have said basically we are going to continue as we are now until we are ready to diverge and have got all the systems in place.”

    As for the Repiublic itself, Varadkar has repeatedly stated (again over and over and over again) that no matter what, the Irish won’t do anything on their soide of the border either.

    And the WTO itself says there is no need to

    So hands up who thinks the UK governemnt AND the Irish Government AND the WTO don’t have a clue what they are on about.

    May doesn’t have to do anything now – the clock is ticking, Parliament can only pass advisory Motions. and March 29 is enshrined in law – in fact the whole Withdrawal Act – which Parliament passed into law three months ago, is designed around No Deal.

    Most of you that read this site are educated people. If you seriously seriously believe this is a disaster then you have re-arranged your pension plans, re-assigned your mortgage, moved your savings, altered your shares portfolios accordingly. Because if you haven’t it means you are either as thick as two short planks OR you ssecretly believe it won’t be the disaster you keep shouting about (to each other in the main – the rest of us just look on ptyingly).

    I’m sure Ane will be on in a bit with more of her ‘Woe is me’ garbage.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Rob you assume the only people who back Corbyn in the party are momentum middle class Shire ,remainers

    Rhe Peter Shore labour leave wing who think labour lost in 79 as it wasn’t left wing enough back him

    Some of the non aligned, embarrassed by Owen smith, Burnham Yvettes,crap campaigns back him, the hard core corbynites back him

    As does some of the old school blue labour like Paul Embery

    Their messiah is a brexiter , and anti Corbynites brexiters like me is laughing at the momentum liberals gutted their messiah was a brexiter all along , doesn’t mean the blairites now have Allies with half the Corbynites ,in the name of Remain

  5. steve says:

    Alf: “they [the Blairites] won’t gain many seats”

    This is what keeps the Blairites in Labour.

    And there are no career opportunities in other political parties. The Tories already have more than their quota of numpties and the toxic LibDems are in permanent decline.

    Even private sector lobbyist outfits would have trouble absorbing a large influx of untalented, Blairite wannabe ‘communication consultants’ eager to cash-in on the networking connections available to ex-MPs.

  6. Anne says:

    Pleased to read Francis O’Grady is asking for a suspension of article 50. This seems to me a sensible suggestion- Mrs May whole negotiation from the start has been very poor – we are now left with a position of accept my deal or no deal – for such a major decision such as this it is totally unacceptable. The deal is just not good enough so why should we be forced into it?

  7. John P Reid says:

    Anne. Frances Ogrady represents Trade unions that represent mainly middle class white collar suburban workers who voted Libdem in 2010 or in the 80’s

    Fact is the old school blue collar wotking class voter who’s in a union doesn’t get involved with party politics outside Mcklusky and unite

    Yes May didn’t handle things great the Deals rubbish, guess what we’re gonna get no deal and guess what good that’s what the Shire working class left ,want,

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