Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Vital Contribution

Peter Oborne writes: 

Brexiteers are incandescent that Jeremy Corbyn is due to hold talks next week in Brussels with the EU’s trade negotiator Michel Barnier.

They are convinced that despite voting in the Commons to trigger Article 50 to begin Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, the Labour Leader secretly wishes to sabotage Brexit.

The argument runs that, by following this course, he hopes to destroy Theresa May’s government and move into No 10 himself.

It’s Monsieur Barnier, of course, a former French government minister, who is a thorn in Mrs May’s side, having preposterously proclaimed that Britain will have to pay a £50billion divorce settlement.

Although many Tory Brexiteers detect a conspiracy between Corbyn and Brussels bigwigs to undermine Mrs May, I believe they have badly misread the intentions of the Labour Leader.

But, as some in the Tory party traitorously plot against a gravely weakened PM amid irresponsible talk of possible successors and stalking-horses, the truth is that Corbyn could well make a vital contribution to the Brexit negotiations.

He is on record in recent months as having said the referendum result was ‘a clear vote’ and has stressed his determination to get a ‘good deal with Europe’.

Indeed, currently the most popular politician in Britain — with a YouGov/Times poll yesterday giving Labour an eight-point lead over the Conservatives — he feels he has an increasing amount of authority to ensure Brexit happens.

There is a bigger irony here.

In last month’s General Election, thousands of Remainers voted for Labour in the hope that if elected PM, Corbyn might overturn the referendum result or instigate a second vote.

The fact is that, at heart, Corbyn is much more critical of the EU than Theresa May — or many other members of the Cabinet.

The Labour leader has a long record of opposition to the Brussels-driven project for a European superstate.

In the 1975 referendum, like so many left-wingers, he voted for Britain to leave what was then the Common Market.

He then opposed the Maastricht Treaty that, 25 years ago, significantly extended the power of Brussels and laid the foundations for the EU becoming a superstate as it removed sovereign powers from individual member governments. 

Similarly, as a backbencher, Corbyn defied his party leader Tony Blair and opposed the Lisbon Treaty which created the constitutional framework for today’s EU.

Before becoming Leader, he denounced the ‘EU’s ever-limiting powers for national parliaments and an increasingly powerful common foreign and security policy’.

Despite such a long and proud history of Euroscepticism, when he was elected to lead the party, he felt forced to join the Remain campaign.

This was simply because he could not change the minds of the substantial majority of EU-worshipping Labour MPs. (Last year, more than 200 of the party’s 231 MPs were in favour of staying in the EU.)

Even so, Corbyn was conspicuous by his low profile during the EU referendum campaign in 2016.

However, now, with the Tories in turmoil and sensing blood, Corbyn has the opportunity to make mischief, manoeuvre himself closer to No 10 and express his true reservations about the EU.

Evidence of this has been seen in the way he has ruthlessly treated Labour’s high-profile Remainers.

Last week he sacked three pro-European shadow ministers for defying the party whip and backing a Commons amendment by Blairite MP Chuka Umunna calling for Britain to stay in the Single Market, in direct contravention of official Labour policy. 

With the menacing [oh, puh-lease, have you met them?] support of the grassroots movement Momentum, which is plotting to deselect moderate [compared to what?] Labour MPs, Corbyn has made it clear he’s willing to discipline any parliamentary rebels.

In his sights are the 49 who joined the anti-Brexit Commons revolt against his Leadership.

Meanwhile, in a fascinating separate development, I understand that, two weeks ago, a group of senior businessmen who met a close union ally of Corbyn in the hope of convincing him of the case for a watered-down Brexit were sent away with a flea in their ear.

Of course, the reasons why Corbyn supports Brexit are not the same as why Tory Leavers loathe the EU.

While the latter can’t wait to restore powers to Westminster, regain control of our borders, ditch the European Court of Human Rights etc, Corbyn sees the EU as a capitalist, free market organisation that discriminates against working men and women.

Also, the Labour Leader fears that Brussels rules — such as those governing free markets, opposing state control and banning the seizing of private assets — could prevent him putting a socialist programme into practice if ever he became Prime Minister.

And so, regardless of the myriad reasons for his dislike of the EU, I believe that Corbyn’s support is absolutely crucial to the success of Brexit negotiations.

This is particularly the case at a time the Tory Party is convulsed by a brutal battle between MPs who want a ‘soft’ Brexit — with continued membership of the Single Market trading arrangements — and hard Brexiteers who believe the UK can flourish without any vestigial EU ties.

As Mrs May struggles to regain authority, it is the duty of the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition to step up and do the right thing by this country.

How ironic it would be if Brexit — with this country re-established as a truly independent, self-governing nation — was achieved thanks to the influence of Jeremy Corbyn, rather than the efforts of Right-wing free-marketeers such as Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Nigel Farage.

Well, not really, for all the reasons already set out. Johnson, in particular, wrote both a Leave column and a Remain column for the Telegraph, and more or less tossed a coin as to which one to submit.

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