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Corbyn sinks into confusion over Europe

by Denis MacShane | 09.05.2017

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

When it comes to Europe, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have forgotten the first rule of politics: if you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Corbyn’s campaign launch speech on Tuesday was depressing enough. Surpassing Theresa’s May Sphinx-like mantra “Brexit means Brexit”, he aligned the Labour Party with UKIP by saying that he accepts our exit from Europe is irreversible.

All was seemingly clear until the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, asked him a simple question. Will the UK stay in the EU? She repeated the question seven times, but Corbyn declined to say categorically whether he would take Britain out of the EU if elected. Any professionally trained politician would have said that being in the single market is essential for investment, jobs and exports and that leaving the customs union would do massive damage to Northern Ireland (as former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern made clear on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning).

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Instead, Corbyn stammered about how he would get a better deal from Europe. From Emmanuel Macron? From Angela Merkel? From Mariano Rajoy? How and on what terms?

There is no one in Labour’s ranks of the stature of a John Smith or Gordon Brown or Robin Cook with the courage of their convictions to question the outcome of a referendum backed by just 37% of the electorate. Labour pro-European MPs – still a majority – have been voiceless and leaderless since last summer.

Waffling about immigration controls has not won Labour a single extra vote. Corbyn’s endorsement of Brexit – presuming it was indeed an endorsement – will not win a single extra seat. The opposite is almost certainly the case. The two main Brexit parties – UKIP and now Labour – lost heavily in last week’s council elections.

For three decades Europe has destroyed a succession of Conservative prime ministers, starting with Margaret Thatcher and ending (for now) with David Cameron. But anti-Europeanism is a politically transmitted disease. The last 24 hours of confused Corbynism have shown that today it is not the Tories but Labour that is being chewed up and spat out by Europe.

Corbyn has said he will stay on as Labour leader after the party’s inevitable defeat on June 8. This means that Labour cannot be the opposition to Brexit after the election. So where do the 48% turn for political voice? Or, as so often in British political life, will the opposition to a disastrous international policy come from within the Conservative Party?

This article has been reworked to include Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Laura Kuenssberg following Labour’s official election launch.

Edited by Alan Wheatley

5 Responses to “Corbyn sinks into confusion over Europe”

  • The role of the Liberal Democrats becomes more critical if they are the only anti-hard Brexit party in England and Wales. While their leader is hardly an inspiring guy, he does come across reasonably in some settings – it would just be a lot easier if he shut up about raising taxes for everyone, his religious doubts about gays and taking too long to sack the Nazi sympathiser.
    There is no doubt that May will win, but it is possible to see an opposition coalesce into a reasonable version well ahead of the actual break from the EU. While it is hard to see many Tories being sufficiently strong to do other than follow the party line any time soon, it would be far more likely to occur if the route via WTO is as dangerous as it seems.

  • Odd thing the Guardian states the opposite, that Corbyn repeatedly would not answer the question “Would the UK definitely leave the EU?”

    Seems like someone has a fake headline

  • Listen to Corbyn’s interview with Laura Kuensberg, which was much more nuanced than McShane’s article suggests.Only an idiot would be stating what the position of government should be at the conclusion of negotiations before they have begun.In a climate in which Brexiters are arguing that the result of the referendum is biding, irrespective of what the mood of the public might be in two years time, it is difficult to have a sensible discussion about options at this moment.Instead both the major parties merely repeat the mantra that they are simply seeking the best deal possible.Predictions about what that may mean, are worth less than nothing at this stage.

  • I wish anti Brexit, pro-Europe people would get more solidly behind Tim Farron and the Lib Dems, patently the only nationwide party which stands unequivocably opposed to the destruction of our relationship with Europe. It is clear that Corbyn’s opposition is feeble, particularly as he doesn’t even sound that he has convinced himself. There must be alot of moderate Labour voters who are unhappy with Corbyn, and the Lib Dems should be a natural receptacle for these votes. There must also be alot of Tories who voted Remain, who traditionally when they are upset with their party, default to the Lib Dems. Clearly, they are not going to default to a party under Corbyn.

    The results in Local elections are often not followed at national level, and now we have a national issue of crucial importance, effecting this country’s economic and strategic relationships for generations to come. The Lib Dems have periodically done extremely well in surges, and that can happen again. If we want to salvage what we can from the Brexit debacle, the Lib Dems must have as strong as possible presence in Parliament. People who do not wish to see our relationship with Europe in tatters, and us reduced to an offshore island in every sense, need to do what they can to bolster the Lib Dems position, even where it means voting or speaking against other parties they have previously supported.

  • This article would be hilarious if it wasn’t so painful. Anyone who watched even part of the interview would understand that Corbyn has stated that he would go to the Brexit negotiating table with the intention to protect British Jobs workers rights (He’s a social democrat after all. That’s kind of his shtick.) Even if he hasn’t aligned himself with the likes of Macron or other major EU figures, he made it clear in the interview that he was willing to negotiate with them if you actually bothered to watch the darn interview.