Expert View

Will ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ become ‘Oh dear, Jeremy Corbyn’?

by Denis MacShane | 10.01.2018

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

Theresa May is on the ropes over Brexit. From her election disaster last June to the ridiculed reshuffle this week, the prime minister must feel as if Brexit is a curse which nothing will lift.

On the old political maxim that the best time to kick an opponent is when he or she is flat on their back, one might expect Jeremy Corbyn would relish putting the boot into the woman he would love to replace. But instead he insists on offering her a helping hand by making a statement on Brexit that confuses and dismays most of his MPs while leaving the government without any opposition on the most important issue of the day.    

On the day of the botched reshuffle Corbyn decided to make his own headlines by telling a meeting of Labour MPs that Britain cannot stay in the single market under any circumstances and that leaving the EU means leaving the single market. This remarkable assertion – common enough on the lips of Nigel Farage or Michael Gove – is legally and politically nonsense on stilts.

Norway, to take one small example, is not in the EU but is in the single market. It is perfectly possible for the UK to leave the EU politically but stay within the single market.

Leaving the EU as a treaty organisation means not participating in the European Parliament elections, not sending ministers to the EU Council of Ministers and not nominating a European Commissioner. That meets the 2016 referendum mandate to “leave” the EU.

Nowhere on the ballot paper were the words “single market”. Indeed soon after the referendum, Boris Johnson, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “There will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market.” His fellow Tory Brexit cheerleader, Daniel Hannan MEP,  declared: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.”

The defence of Corbyn’s endorsement of leaving the single market is that he cannot go against the votes of the 37% of the total electorate who opted for Brexit. Yet by repudiating staying in the single market he is going against 65% of Labour voters who voted Remain. In a YouGov poll published late in December, two-thirds of those who voted remain said they would be disappointed or angry if Labour says it will proceed with Brexit.

One cannot help thinking that a more commanding, cannier Labour leader like a Harold Wilson or a John Smith would be able to excoriate the Tory government on the threat to investment, jobs, wages and social rights that a fully fledged Brexit entails, while simultaneously keeping alive staying in the single market or even consulting the people once we know what Brexit is, without explicitly repudiating the June 2016 vote.

Corbyn appears not to have these skills. Last year was his annus mirabilis. Will 2018 be the year when “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”  becomes “Oh dear, Jeremy Corbyn”?

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    9 Responses to “Will ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ become ‘Oh dear, Jeremy Corbyn’?”

    • For a country in so much peril, Jeremy Corbyn is definitely causing a lot of anguish.

      Please will the TUC leaders take him down to the pub, as soon as possible.

      With a pint of beer and fresh sandwiches, have a good chat with him over Brexit, and put him back on the straight and narrow!

    • In making this argument it is important, as has been pointed out before, not to make the common mistake that Norway is a Member of the Single Market. It is not. But it did negotiate comprehensive access. To get this right does not weaken your argument.

    • Jeremy needs to grow a pair and put the boot in, he’s too soft , that’s part of him that I’m not keen on ,he’s a nice softie! We need someone who will stand up for the majority of Labour supporters who want to stay in Europe, not get into bed with the Tories.

    • It seems extraordinary that Jeremy Corbyn does not seem to understand the differences between the Single Market and the EU. It will certainly be news to the people of Norway, that although having open access to the Single Market, they are also EU members. Somebody needs to explain to him, the Referendum manadate was only to leave the EU, not to prevent free access to the Single Market.

    • Probably Corbyn means what he says. He is idealogically a Brexiter, seeing the single market as a barrier to socialism, and I can’t see him shifting. His world view is as deeply nostalgic in its own way as that of Johnson/Gove/Mogg.

    • Apart from Corbyn’s own long held belief that the EU is a rich man’s club, the problem is that so far – including in the June 2017 general election – his game of playing towards the Labour voters, particularly in the North, who are leavers while allowing Keir Starmer and others to playing towards the great majority of Labour voters who are remainers has worked. However you can’t fool all the people all of the time. Sooner or later the Labour remainers will notice that there is hardly a whisker between the official policies on brexit of the Conservative and Labour parties. In the meantime the Liberal Democrats, who have been absolutely consistent and united on this subject since before the referendum was even called, are ignored because of their perceived electoral weakness. Given that they have considerably more members than the Conservatives and are winning a lot of Council by-elections maybe remainers who have been duped into supporting Labour should take another look at the Lib Dems.

    • Corbyn’s record on Europe is one John Redwood would be proud of. He (Corbyn) voted to leave the EEC in 1975 and consistently opppsed pro Europe measures ever since. More: he persoanally has supported immediate departure from the EU and whipped his MPs accordingly. Here’s the evidence:

      Pro EU Labour MPs and members need to make Corbyn understand he is in a minority in his party for the good of the country. If they think it can’t be done they need to join the Liberal Democrats today.

    • yeah I think so too.

      Corbyn see the Single Market as a one-way street to capitalism, therefore incompatible with his ideological preferences for a new Internationale on Britain’s shore.
      he does understand the need to kick May and the brexiteers, because this enhance his chances to be PM one day, and therefore the odds for his left-wing utopia to come to fruition.
      But he does not want to stop the UK leaving the EU or the Single Market.

      as a Continental, I’m fine with.
      the messier the UK (both Tories and Labour) make a pig’s head of Brexit, the bigger the fallout, the more valuable the lesson for everybody once the anger and recriminations abate.

      it’s just very sad that we need such kind of lesson to teach common sense and responsibility to otherwise nominally adults. I guess it’s an indictment to the immaturity of the current British political scene and subjects when it comes to democracy.

    • To give Corbyn some credit, he may be trying to achieve the same benefits of Single Market membership through his own negotiating strategy. Hence his making the point that the ‘Single Market’ is not a formal organisation. The only problem is, he is not conducting the negotiations. His only means to affect our terms of access to the Single Market, is through the parliamentary process. In which case it comes down to whether substantive amendments to the Brexit Bill can be drafted, which he would support.