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Brexit Cheat Sheet

Tribe Watch: These Are the Labour Positions On Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn has been forced into action, but not everyone's happy.

by Gavin Haynes
08 February 2019, 1:00pm

Photo: Kevin J. Frost / Alamy Stock Photo)

Jeremy Corbyn has done a thing. Big news. After weeks of hovering above the Brexit process, Corbyn’s official position of "let's just sit back and see what happens" has been bounced into action by the remorseless onward grind of events.

When The PM's deal didn't pass, the ball went back to Parliament, and so, with her offer of inter-party talks, May trapped him between being seen by history as asleep at the wheel, and being forced to actually choose a thing and stick to it.

He chose to choose: on Thursday, Labour put out the clearest set of Brexit demands yet. Crucially, they’re not just demands. If the PM accepts them, they’ll likely happen. A few fiddles with the Backstop later… Corbyn manages to whip 200 or so of his MPs… and bam – we have a Withdrawal Agreement. It’s done.

Except not. Labour’s delicate coalition has always been a heavier-than-air machine. Faced with this cold blast of reality, of stuff actually happening, the same problems of factionalism that have beset May are about to visit him. We haven’t paid them so much attention, but Corbyn has his own Rees-Moggs, his own Anna Soubrys.

All of these groups want wildly different things. Now, they in turn have a choice to make. Back him, or wreck him? Her fate is in his hands, but his fate is in their hands. How do the groups stack up?

The Official Party Line

Look out world, Jeremy Corbyn’s finally got a position and he’s not afraid to use it.

What do they want?
Five things stand out from JC's letter to May setting out his position. His points all relate to the "political declaration". In other words, the bit of the withdrawal agreement that relates to what happens after we withdraw. A sort of wish-list for the next phase: the "future relationship". He wants:

1. A permanent customs union. Which will be a "no" from May.
2. "Close alignment" with the Single Market, i.e. constantly updating our trading laws to match Europe's.
3. “Dynamic alignment” on workers’ rights. Which would involve workers never being worse off than they are now.
4. To continue to be a part of various EU agencies and yes…
5. … That also includes security co-operation, like the European Arrest Warrant.

Overall, the letter sums up to an EEA deal – basically what Norway has.

Who's supporting that? A hardcore of Labour MPs. He has 256. Perhaps 200 will come with him, but maybe fewer.

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Len McLuskey (Alan West / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Unions

Britain’s biggest union boss, Len McLuskey, head of Unite, has already been to Number 10 to discuss his own thoughts with the PM. Len is also Jeremy’s biggest donor: Unite gave Labour £11 million just in the first two years of the Corbyn era. For that sort of money, party leaders take your calls, even the cokey weeping 3AM ones.

What do they want?
One of the reasons McLuskey has gone behind Corbyn’s back is that he is eyeing up one delicious cherry: liberalisation of union laws. More strikes, and less balloting of members before those strikes – largely reversing the 2016 Trade Union Act.

Just last week he chased this up by saying: So long as he gets an irreversible ratchet on workers’ rights, he’s pretty agnostic about customs unions and the like: "Coming out of the EU is not the end of the world."

Who is supporting them?
Any bit of the Labour Party that would like to keep its funding. Also Theresa May, apparently; she is already offering to enshrine many of these things in law. And Unite’s 1.2 million members, on paper at least. But 50 of them have already written to The Guardian, setting out their disagreement:

“By voting down the deal, MPs can create the conditions to bring down the government and force a general election, giving us the chance to get a government for the many. Backing the Tory deal, or abstaining on it, means keeping the Tories in power with their agenda of cuts, austerity and privatisation.”

Fair enough, if you forget that cuts, austerity and privatisation are also what happens when an economy tumbles out of 50 years of trading arrangements overnight.

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Chuka Umunna (Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Chukas

The "I Want EU Inside Me" wing is unofficially lead by Chuka Umunna. He has already dismissed the five points as "a complete joke". Chris Leslie, another sizeable Chuka, and a former shadow chancellor, attacked Corbyn for enabling Brexit: "When the jobs go and revenues for services dry up as a result, Labour’s leadership will have zero right to complain: they share responsibility." Failed leadership challenger Owen Smith has gone even further, suggesting he’d quit the party if they didn’t insist on a second referendum – a tragedy for someone, probably.

What do they want?
They want him to bolt on a second referendum, and to postpone Article 50.

Who is supporting them?
Between ten to 60 MPs. A hardcore of seven are now said to be ready to leave the Labour Party over the second referendum issue.

Team Lexit

The left-wing case for Brexit spans the likes of Kate Hoey and Frank Field – who come at it from a sovereignty angle – and rising stars like New Statesman and Novara economist Grace Blakeley, who hark back to an earlier tradition of Labour orthodoxy: that you can’t do hard-left things like nationalisation or propping up industries while you’re inside the EU.

What do they want?
Nothing. They want Corbyn to revert to his sleepy Bagpuss stance and get back to his old job of opposing for opposition’s sake. Standing on the sidelines is the best they can hope for. "Campaigning for Remain would (legitimately or not) cast Labour as the party of the establishment," argues Blakeley. "Exactly where liberals want them."

Who is supporting them?
Almost no one who is in politics. Maybe eight MPs. But, y’know, maybe millions of ordinary Labour voters?

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(MediaWorldImages / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Big Mo

Momentum are Corbyn’s super-fans – but can they stay loyal to the leader in the face of this kind of provocation? Many of the young lefties he brought into the party were going round the last Labour conference with tote bags proclaiming "Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit". Their sometime spiritual avatar Owen Jones has come out firmly in favour of Corbyn’s letter, and so has farther-left sometime-avatar Ash Sarkar. So far, Momentum and its founder Jon Lansman have remained mute.

What do they want?
To love Corbyn and hate Brexit. Which is a great recipe for a breakdown.

Who Is Supporting Them?
Hundreds of thousands of crucial voters and activists. But if you can sell them on this as a "sly Norway" deal, maybe they won’t cry too hard.

@gavhaynes