We’ve no special insight into Jeremy Corbyn’s thinking, and thus took a risk when we wrote recently as follows:
“To believe that he will suddenly tear up Labour’s present approach to Brexit is to misunderstand his entire political career, his character – and his recent record on Brexit. Corbyn is an old-time Eurosceptic who leads a markedly pro-EU party. He pays lip-service to its consensus, but without much action to follow it up. With the assistance of John McDonnell, Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher, he played a stonewalling blinder during the referendum campaign. As we have pointed out previously, Milne used “every trick in the bureaucratic book, and then some, to stop Corbyn upping the ante for Remain. Speeches were watered down, e-mails queried, press releases blocked or delayed, meetings rearranged or cancelled – or simply not turned up to”. In effect, Labour’s leader and his cabal sabotaged the cause that he was nominally signed up to.
Roll the clock forward a year, and nothing much has changed. There is no gain for Corbyn in making waves within his party by backing Single Market membership – to which he is in any event reflexively hostile, since its state aid and competition rules are contrary to his commitments on nationalisation and borrowing. Indeed, there is nothing in it for him in proposing a positive policy at all. He is set up to be the John Smith of our time, doing to the Conservatives over Brexit what Smith did to them over Maastricht. He will carp. He will criticise. He will table emergency questions. He will demand debates. He will spring ambushes. He will say that the Conservatives are all washed up, divided, discredited and incapable of conducting negotiations effectively. In short, you will scarcely be able to guess from his opposition to everything that the Government says and does over Brexit that the Opposition’s position is actually much the same.”
It looks as though we were right, at least for the moment, in arguing that the push for continued Single Market membership, supported by a Remain coalition stretching through George Osborne’s Evening Standard through Vince Cable to Chuka Umanna, will get nowhere. And that Corbyn’s take and instincts on Brexit are part of the reason why.
Umanna put down an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling, inter alia, for Britain to remain a member of the Single Market. Corbyn refused to support it, and Labour’s whips instructed the party’s MPs to abstain. 50 Labour of them voted for it none the less – and Paul Waugh reports that Corbyn has begun sacking front benchers who helped to make up that number (see above).
Here’s the list in full: a rebellion of roughly a fifth of one’s MPs is a very big rebellion. But until that number rises significantly, or the 101 opposition MPs who voted for the amendment are joined by a huge Tory revolt, the campaign for continued Single Market membership will make little progress.
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Emma Dent Coad
Susan Elan Jones
Plus Heidi Alexander, teller.
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The amendment fell by 313 votes to 101. 34 SNP MPs, 12 Liberal Democrats, 4 Plaid Cymru, one independent and one Green also voted for it.