Cor­byn in call to break dead­lock

Labour leader pledges to vote against May’s Brexit deal next week

Business Day - - INTERNATIONAL - Phil No­ble Wake­field

Bri­tish Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn has called on MPs to help his op­po­si­tion party “break the dead­lock” over Brexit and sup­port his call for a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment to trig­ger an elec­tion.

Pledg­ing to vote against Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s deal next week, Cor­byn said only a Labour gov­ern­ment can se­cure an ac­cord with the EU that will re­unite Britain, a move that will, he granted, prob­a­bly re­quire an ex­ten­sion of Brexit talks with Brus­sels.

Par­lia­ment is dead­locked about how to pro­ceed with Brexit and is ex­pected to vote against May’s deal on Tues­day.

With less than three months be­fore Britain leaves the EU, May has warned MPs that if they vote down her deal, they would be open­ing the way for a dis­or­derly exit or for Brexit not to hap­pen at all.

Cor­byn said if May has con­fi­dence in her deal, she should “call that elec­tion and let the peo­ple de­cide”.

“If the gov­ern­ment can­not pass its most im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion then there must be a gen­eral elec­tion at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity. Clearly, Labour does not have enough MPs in par­lia­ment to win a con­fi­dence vote on its own.”

He said mem­bers across the House of Com­mons “should vote with us to break the dead­lock”, adding that Labour will call a vote of no con­fi­dence when it has the great­est chance of suc­cess.

He said only an elec­tion would give the win­ning party “a re­newed man­date to ne­go­ti­ate a bet­ter deal” that could pass through par­lia­ment, adding an elec­tion and rene­go­ti­a­tion would prob­a­bly re­quire an ex­ten­sion to ar­ti­cle 50, which be­gan Britain’s di­vorce pro­ceed­ings in March 2017.

“Mov­ing into of­fice at a pe­riod right up against the clock, there would need to be time for that ne­go­ti­a­tion,” Cor­byn said. “An ex­ten­sion would be a pos­si­bil­ity be­cause clearly there has to be time to ne­go­ti­ate.”

De­spite strength­en­ing op­po­si­tion from Brexit cam­paign­ers in her Con­ser­va­tive Party, May has so far re­fused to re­treat from her deal and from the timetable for Britain to leave the bloc on March 29.

A source said May is “minded” to ac­cept a pro­posal from Labour MPs to add as­sur­ances on work­ers’ rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions. But crit­ics say her ef­forts will fall short. With no Tory ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment, MPs are in­creas­ingly try­ing to force a plan B, with sug­ges­tions rang­ing from leav­ing with­out a deal to stag­ing a new ref­er­en­dum.

The most often-heard ar­gu­ment against a sec­ond vote on Bri­tish mem­ber­ship of the EU is also the least plau­si­ble. By this ac­count, re­vis­it­ing the is­sue would be “di­vi­sive”. Old wounds would never close. Deal or no deal with Brus­sels, the sooner the bar­ri­cades are thrown up across the Chan­nel the sooner a spirit of na­tional unity can be re­stored.

This re­lies on the out­landish as­sump­tion that the 48% of Brits who voted in 2016 to re­main part of the EU are now con­tent to hum the Eng­lish na­tion­al­ists’ tunes. Those who saw the coun­try’s for­tunes as in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound up with Europe are ready to shrug their shoul­ders at the prospect of a poorer, less se­cure, closed Britain.

In the real world, re­vis­it­ing the de­ci­sion taken in 2016 would be di­vi­sive only in the sense that the Brexit vote was it­self di­vi­sive. Plebiscites are ex­er­cises not in democ­racy but in crude ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism. The in­sti­tu­tions and norms of lib­eral democ­racy are there to pro­tect the rights of mi­nori­ties. Ref­er­en­dums af­ford no such re­spect to the loser.

In two of the na­tions of the union that com­prises the UK — Eng­land and Wales — a ma­jor­ity backed leav­ing the EU. In Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land the greater num­ber wanted to re­main. Opin­ion across all four na­tions was di­vided around just about every de­mo­graphic axis.

Eng­land’s great met­ro­pol­i­tan cities — Lon­don most no­tably — pro­duced big pro-Euro­pean ma­jori­ties. They were out­voted in provin­cial cities and towns and ru­ral ar­eas. Across Britain, young peo­ple backed stay­ing in the EU by a hefty mar­gin — only to see a dif­fer­ent course set for their lives by those whose fu­tures are mostly be­hind them. The uni­ver­sity-ed­u­cated af­flu­ent were solidly Re­main. The less ad­van­taged mostly joined the Leave camp.

Two and a half years after the ref­er­en­dum the chasm looks, if any­thing, deeper. Tra­di­tional left-right di­vides have been rubbed out by the Brexit fault­line. Opin­ion poll­sters say the num­bers sug­gest that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum most likely would see a shift just suf­fi­cient to pro­duce a Re­main vote. Brex­iters warn in one breath that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum would be dan­ger­ously di­vi­sive and in the next claim, cu­ri­ously, that it would hand them a land­slide.

A dis­pas­sion­ate view would prob­a­bly judge the out­come too close to call.

It is safe to say that, what­ever the for­tunes of Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Brexit deal when par­lia­ment votes on the pack­age next week, the costs and con­se­quences of leav­ing the EU will be felt for years to come. Brexit is a process, not an event. Un­tan­gling the closely wo­ven threads of in­te­gra­tion will be not be easy. The ar­gu­ments could rage for a decade. Along the way the young will not be ap­plaud­ing the old for deny­ing them a fu­ture in Europe. More likely the frac­tures will widen. The UK union is the likely vic­tim.

When the peo­ple of Scot­land voted in 2014 against sepa­ra­tion, they were opt­ing for an open over a closed fu­ture. Scot­land’s unique ties with the other three na­tions of the UK sat along­side Britain’s place in the EU. Brexit fun­da­men­tally changes this cal­cu­lus. For all the non­sense spouted by some Brex­iters about “Global Britain”, the road out of Europe leads back to lit­tle Eng­land. What else does “tak­ing back con­trol” of bor­ders mean ex­cept clos­ing the door to out­siders? Leav­ing the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union is an act of pro­tec­tion­ism. It will re­strict ex­changes be­tween Britain and its neigh­bours.

At its root, Brexit is an ex­pres­sion of Eng­lish na­tion­al­ism — a re­jec­tion of “Bri­tish­ness”. The next time they are given the chance, the peo­ple of Scot­land will surely choose Europe over Eng­land.

North­ern Ire­land’s place in the union is no longer be­yond ques­tion. For the mo­ment May de­pends for her ma­jor­ity at West­min­ster on the votes of the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP). But the im­pla­ca­ble stance on the Ir­ish bor­der that has seen the DUP hold the prime min­is­ter to ran­som in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions also marks out the dis­tance be­tween un­flinch­ing Ul­ster union­ism and broader opin­ion in North­ern Ire­land.

It is too soon to say what par­lia­ment will come up with if, as ex­pected, May’s deeply flawed Brexit blue­print falls to heavy de­feat next week. Noth­ing can be ruled out in a na­tion suf­fer­ing what can only be de­scribed as a col­lec­tive ner­vous break­down.

Hard­line Brex­iters call them­selves cham­pi­ons of par­lia­men­tary sovereignty. Yet they rail against John Ber­cow, speaker of the House of Com­mons, for giv­ing MPs the op­por­tu­nity to ex­er­cise that sovereignty.

These Brex­iters also whis­per that “the peo­ple” (they mean an­gry na­tion­al­ists who have been try­ing to in­tim­i­date proEuro­pean MPs) will take over the streets if the MPs dare to chal­lenge the out­come of the 2016 ref­er­en­dum. When last did the House of Com­mons bow to fear of the mob?

This is what hap­pens when par­lia­men­tary democ­racy falls vic­tim to a dem­a­goguery that de­crees that once vot­ers have taken the “right” de­ci­sion they can­not change their minds.

It would be naive to think a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum would close all the fis­sures opened up by Brexit. It might save the UK from the break-up of the union. /©


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