Corbyn in call to break deadlock
Labour leader pledges to vote against May’s Brexit deal next week
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. /©
NOTHING CAN BE RULED OUT IN A NATION SUFFERING WHAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN