Tag Archives: EU

Labour and Article 50

Jeremy Corbyn is coming in for a lot of criticism over the three line whip on MPs to vote for the Government motion on Article 50. But what was the alternative? Corbyn has stood by the democratic principle that Parliament should honour the result of the Referendum from the beginning. The type of Brexit has been the subject of debate. Here some of Corbyn’s critics in the Labour Party have been making conflicting demands. On the one hand they understand the importance of the Single Market. But they are also trying to appease the anti-immigration feeling that has helped UKIP make inroads in the Labour heartlands.
Corbyn’s consistent response has been to oppose immigration controls. He argues that the important thing is for UK to continue to have unfettered access to European markets to defend jobs in this country. Free movement of goods presupposes free movement of labour. But free movement of labour should not be used to undercut wages and conditions in this country. Nor should communities that take a disproportionate number of migrant labourers suffer because of pressures on local infrastructure. You could argue that he has been ineffective in getting this message across. It would have been easier perhaps if he did not always have to answer media questions about splits in Labour’s ranks over immigration whenever he was interviewed on the subject
Labour is facing by-elections in two constituencies where the core Labour vote is overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. These by-elections were prompted by the resignation of two high profile Labour remainers, Tristram Hunt in Stoke and Jamie Read in Copeland. UKIP are the main challengers in Stoke and the Tories are hoping that a similar UKIP surge in Copeland will split the Labour vote and let them in. For Corbyn to be seen undermining the referendum result now would spell electoral disaster.
There are a lot of Labour MPs in a similar position in Labour’s heartlands. Many of them are from the centre and right of the party and have been highly critical of Corbyn throughout his leadership. This three line whip lets them off the hook over Article 50. Just asking MPs to vote to trigger Article 50 would have given the nod to a rebellion that would be seized upon by Labour’s critics to exploit their divisions on Europe. A free vote would have given them all the dilemma of following their principles at the risk of alienating still further their electorate or else appearing hypocritical. Even Labour MPs whose constituencies favoured remain are not immune to these pressures. The Lib Dems have an open strategy of appealing to Remain voters. They do not expect to get any Brexit voters any time soon. Labour MPs need both because the Labour electorate is divided on this issue and at present UKIP presents a greater existential threat to Labour than the Lib-Dems.
Now Corbyn has given them all a way out. Without a massive rebellion by Tory MPs Article 50 is going to be invoked anyway. Why split the party for the Tories’ benefit when a united Labour Party is needed to push for the best possible deal that defends jobs and living standards in a post-Brexit world? I find it ironic that the MPs who once accused Corbyn of gesture politics want a gesture of their own now that he is trying to practice some realpolitik.