Emily Cole

Naked Politics Blogger

I don’t think there’s anyone who would dispute the truth that the Brexit process is in a mess. For me, one of the most depressing parts of all this is Labour’s abdication of responsibility. Despite knowing Theresa May would need to reach out to them when she lost the vote on her deal, they’re happy to sit on their hands and watch the disaster unfold in preparation for the next election.

Corbyn can then come sweeping into number 10 and say, “God what a mess those Tories made”, pretending they weren’t complicit in whatever disastrous situation arises if they don’t work towards either a deal that can pass through parliament or a second referendum to deal with the gridlock.

Until the defeat of Theresa May’s deal, Labour could get away with an extremely ambiguous Brexit policy. They wanted a general election and were that to fail, they said “All options would be on the table”. This is just a meaningless soundbite and only clarity on their position seems to be a customs union and floating the idea of a public vote around to hopefully stamp out opposition from Labour Remainers. Since May’s deal was rejected, they’ve been invited to Number 10 for talks, their bluff has been called and Corbyn has been left scrambling to find another way to avoid dealing with Brexit.

To mediocrely address Brexit without as of yet getting involved, Labour are calling for No Deal to be removed as an option before coming to the negotiating table. It may seem to be a reasonable premise to have since “no deal” would be a disaster for the country. However, the main way to avoid it is to get a deal through parliament, which would involve Labour and Conservatives finding common ground and compromising.

In refusing to meet the PM, Corbyn and his allies are increasing the prospect of a hard Brexit or even no deal. While it’s easy to rightly blame the Tories for the mess we’re in with the deadline for the exit of EU just around the corner, Labour is now completely botching any opportunity it may have to influence the Brexit process.

With Labour refusing talks with the prime minister, Corbyn is pushing the government away from moderating and softening the deal, towards appeasing the hard Brexiteers or having no deal at all. Jacob Rees-Mogg has already said he would consider voting for the deal were the Irish backstop to become time-limited or ditched all together. MPs such as Sir Graham Brady and Sir Mike Penning, who both voted against May’s deal, have given their backing to the amendment which would say the Irish backstop expires end of December 2021. If the government can appease more hard-line Tory Brexiteers because it’s clear Labour will oppose whatever comes before parliament, Labour are enabling the ‘hard’ Brexit they claim not to want.

Even when Labour’s position is that no deal needs to be taken off the table, those leading the fight for this are backbenchers such as Nick Boles and Yvette Cooper. It is expected that Labour will back their amendment which would seek to extent Article 50 were Parliament unable to get a deal passed by the end of February. But, instead of being architects of preventing a no deal, the leadership is leaving it to the backbenches. In declining to take an active role in stopping No Deal, Corbyn fails again give Labour credibility on Brexit.

Its motion passed at the party conference in September lays out that if a vote of no-confidence in the government were to fail, all options – including a public vote on the deal – must come into play. With no other Brexit deal likely to pass, unless that endorsed by Tory hardliners, when are Labour going to move to support a People’s Vote? Or are they allowing us to sleep walk into a hard Brexit?

Corbyn claimed that when he won the leadership election that there would be a transformation from the Blairite era of policy formulation which came from the top down. Instead it would be dictated by the membership, but the evidence would seem otherwise when the 72% of members who supposedly back a second referendum are being neglected by the leadership. When 89% of members polled believe leaving the EU is wrong for the UK, Corbyn says that, were Labour to win a general election, they’d continue with Brexit over a second referendum. It’s frustrating, even for Corbyn supporters, to see the leadership so blatantly disregard the views of members despite emphasising their importance. Rather, Corbyn’s view that the membership should decide policy only seems to be relevant when it doesn’t come into conflict with his own Euroscepticism.

He is alienating Labour leaver’s, pushing those such as John Mann to vote for Theresa May’s deal. At the same time, the leadership is failing to appease remainers by being so hesitant, and sometimes in blatant opposition, to backing a second referendum. By pushing his own MPs to work with Conservatives on both sides of the argument, Corbyn fails again to show how he can unite a party behind a Brexit policy when they’re almost as divided as the Tories.

Labour’s impotence means they have failed to take advantage of our shambolic government, and as a result they’re only level-pegging in the polls. As Labour MP Darren Jones laid out: “It is pretty embarrassing that we are behind in some of the  polls in the face of a government that has had the most historic parliamentary defeat in history.” With a government in such chaos, Labour should be streaks ahead in the polls but Corbyn isn’t a credible alternative.

Without a coherent policy on the biggest issue facing the country, Labour have little chance of winning a general election and they’ve left both leavers and remainers alienated in their refusal to settle on a clear strategy. Can the leadership of the Labour party please get off the fence and find a meaningful Brexit policy to adopt before it’s too late?

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Last Update: May 24, 2024