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Analysis

May and Corbyn can’t see eye to eye on blindfold Brexits

by Luke Lythgoe | 11.02.2019

Last night Number 10 rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit position. A letter from the prime minister left it very unlikely that a deal with Labour could be struck, or the Brexit deadlock overcome. If Labour’s policy is going nowhere, the party should finally move on and back a People’s Vote – as senior figures including Tom Watson, John McDonnell and Keir Starmer have all committed to in recent days.

May’s letter highlighted several ambiguities in the Labour leader’s proposal. Will Corbyn’s aim to have a say on EU trade policy work in practice? Does he accept that completely frictionless access to the single market will mean continuing the free movement of people? What exactly does he mean by “shared institutions and obligations”?

But May’s letter also has an ulterior motive: to dangle some shiny concessions that might win wavering Labour MPs to backing the government’s deal, even if Corbyn doesn’t.

One is the offer of “further financial support for communities that feel left behind”. Labour MPs in austerity-ravaged constituencies would be short-sighted to buy into this. The 36 Labour MPs who are either being targeted by Downing Street or rebelled in key votes this month are in constituencies that face collectively losing £1.1 billion a year within a decade of the deal being agreed, new research by the People’s Vote campaign revealed. That includes: £970 million in lost economic output; £30.5 million in lost European investment in structural funds; and £88 million in lost EU agricultural subsidy. And, even if ministers do inject some temporary cash, it will not offset the £895 million cut from local authority funding in these areas by the same government.

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May’s other offer is to ask Parliament “whether it wishes to follow suit” whenever EU standards on workers’ rights and environmental protections change. This should not be enough for Labour MPs or trade unionists, as it means that – depending on the composition of the Parliament of the day – the UK still risks being left behind.

Ultimately, these exchanges between May and Corbyn are just another phase of the endless Brexit time wasting. The prime minister can’t accept Corbyn’s demands on a customs union with the EU, as a Downing Street spokesperson made clear. And senior Tories would revolt against a compromise with Labour, as Liz Truss suggested yesterday. Meanwhile Corbyn and his team won’t want the blood of May’s Brexit deal on their hands when the true impact is felt down the line.

But it is important that we’re finally getting a constructive debate about the merits of different Brexit options. It’s just unfortunate this didn’t happen months ago, before Brexit uncertainty started hollowing out the UK economy.

Both May and Corbyn are proposing a blindfold Brexit. The prime minister even admits a deal “cannot be legally binding” and has a “spectrum of outcomes”. This means no clarity and no closure for years to come. MPs do not have to accept this.

With less than 50 days until Brexit, May now looks unwilling to offer another “meaningful vote” on her deal until the end of the month. But Parliament will get a chance to assert itself earlier in votes this Thursday. That includes Jeremy Corbyn: the prime minister has rejected his core Brexit demand outright, more talks would just mean more time wasting – he shouldn’t buy it. Now is the time to end the can kicking and back the only way out of this Brexit mess – a People’s Vote.

One Response to “May and Corbyn can’t see eye to eye on blindfold Brexits”

  • I am inclined to think that MPs in the near future should be pressurized by their electorate to accept laws that allow appropriate correctional measures against them, if in due course it transpires that in the run-up to something as far reaching as Brexit the government’s actions or inaction seriously damaged the future of the country through incompetence and wilful mismanagement of democratic processes. This in the face of strong indications from a number of sides that financial, commercial and social damage would result from the way the process was handled; i.e. in the case of Brexit how the information to the electorate was a load of corrupt porky-pies and half-truths, May’s can-kicking and inaction over the past two years and the blatant lack of respect for the voters shown. Or indeed Corbyn giving in to his love of sitting on the fence rather than show some interest in opposition to the way Brexit is clearly being mishandled. Regarding the way how Labour handled their job of holding government to account for their obvious mishandling of Brexit, incidentally, feels very much like reading about Trump and his spending more than half his working day with executive time.