Who benefits from Labour’s continuing ambiguity on Brexit? The country, or the party?
A few days ago Chuka Umunna put forward an amendment to the Queen’s speech with the aim of securing our place in the Single Market & Customs Union. Jeremy Corbyn instructed his MPs to abstain on the amendment though 50 MPs “defied the whip” and voted in support. There’s been much discussion about whether this was foolish, vain, badly timed or actually necessary at this stage, given that the Conservatives are widely seen to be under pressure & the Labour party is trying to hold onto a coalition of pro & anti brexit voters. Much of this discussion however has taken place from a Labour party and not a national perspective.
This blog attempts to look at the position logically from a national rather than purely Labour party view. Firstly, it’s important to lay out some basic assumptions.
There is no “cake and eat it” Brexit – There is no special deal available from the EU that does not include membership of the Single Market & Customs Union. Therefore if we do not join both of these the UK will suffer significant economic damage.
Clearly the UK voted to leave & clearly immigration is an issue for the UK. There is an argument which says membership of the SM & CU means we haven’t really left. That doesn’t change the facts. At some point the UK will need to choose between prosperity & “controlling immigration”, or, alternatively, the choice will be made for them by our political class. But there is no middle ground, no “near exact benefits deal” that excludes FoM. And all parties know it. Therefore continued fudging around “the best deal” is a political device used by both major parties which actually does the UK no favours whilst it continues.
Labour’s Pro/anti brexit dualism dilemma is wholly it’s own fault – Yes Labour has brexit seats in the north and remainer seats in the south and therefore it’s played a skillful game of playing to both sides. But this was a cynical decision it took, no-one forced Labour to play both sides. Therefore, it’s ultimately up to Labour how it solves this problem because at some point it will have to disappoint 1 of these 2 groups.
The interests of the Labour party & the National Interest are not the same thing – Yes the Labour party has issues and yes it needs to sort itself out however at this time more than ever the national interest must override party interest – country before party. Getting the Labour party into a majority government may be the single aim of party loyalists but it does not in itself end or mitigate Brexit, nor is it necessarily the best thing for the UK at this time. In actual fact the most useful government right now would likely be some form of multi-party coalition that had a clear mandate to minimise or stop brexit and a balanced view on how to take the country forward.
The clock is ticking – Article 50 has been triggered and the clock is ticking. It cannot easily be stopped or pushed back, if it can be at all. There’s simply no time for Labour or the Tory party to “play the long game” as we should have started negotiations proper with a decent and well thought out plan 3 months ago.
So, to summarise, Labour must at some point in the near future come down on being in or out of the SM & CU, and in doing so accept that it will disappoint its Leavers or Remainers. The current behavior of both parties (“ambitious trade deal”/”exact same benefits”) is simply designed to delay this point as long as possible however this serves the individual parties interests and not the UK. On the contrary, whilst this continues the UK economy is being damaged and we are looking increasingly ridiculous to the rest of the world.
If that in/out decision is proving impossible that will only be because Labour was dishonest with its voters at a colossal scale. Labour activists will say this fudging was necessary however given the levels of dishonesty the British public has been exposed to these past 2 years that is arguably unforgivable and certainly not a “new kind of politics”.
So, was Chuka Umunna right in raising the amendment? To address that we need to consider it under 2 separate scenarios, is Corbyn a secret soft brexit/remainer or is he a secret hard brexiteer? I have my own views on this but others have argued differently so we’ll consider both.
Corbyn is a secret soft brexit/remainer
In this instance the argument goes that Chuka has jumped the gun and ruined the long “soft brexit/remain” game that Corbyn & Labour are playing. However if we examine this we have to conclude that, given there is no middle ground & we are in the SM & CU or we are out, the Labour party is essentially deliberately misleading its Leave voters. Furthermore it’s doing this not in the National Interest but in the Party’s interest, in order to hold on to leave seats as long as possible.
Therefore, in essence Chuka & the 49 rebels were attacked for not colluding in an ongoing & drawn out evasion with the public in general and leave voters in particular, solely because Corbyn and the Labour party want to keep misleading Leave voters for as long as possible. It’s important to emphasize this – Labour supporters appear quite comfortable with this “necessary” deceit but this will only create feelings of betrayal and disenfranchisement which will cause significant problems later. Corbyn was supposed to bring a new honesty into politics.
Corbyn is a secret hard brexiteer
This is even more straightforward. In this instance Corbyn and therefore a large part of the Labour leadership are resigned or happy with leaving the SM & CU, are deliberately misleading their remain voters and so there is no long “remain” game to disrupt.
There is however a long “leave” game to be disrupted which Chuka tried and hopefully succeeded in doing.
In summary, the Labour party are leading on either Leavers or Remainers as there is no middle option that satisfies both. Furthermore by doing this they are putting party before country at a most crucial time and are playing a very dangerous and irresponsible game at a time when the UK is very vulnerable and in desperate need of honest leadership. The fact that so many Labour supporters accept this cynical “Party first” attitude is worrying.
At best, this misdirection is leading to soft brexit/remain, and Chuka & co have been penalised for interrupting a cynical, self serving ruse which will only create further distrust and anger with Politics, at worst it’s leading to a Labour driven hard brexit, and anyone with any sense should be thanking the 50 MPs profusely.
My own personal view? Corbyn is a hard brexit supporter, it’s not even really a secret to non Corbyn supporters and as such, Chuka should be applauded for trying to flush him out.