PETER OBORNE: Two-faced Corbyn can't have it both ways on the EU forever

PETER OBORNE: Two-faced Corbyn can't have it both ways on the EU forever

The Government’s defeat in the Commons on Wednesday has led to a welter of ignorant claims that Theresa May is badly damaged and even more absurd suggestions that Brexit can be reversed.

What nonsense!

Admittedly, a rebellion by backbench Tory Remainers means that MPs will now have a veto on the final deal.

Despite Wednesday’s setback, though, the Prime Minister lives to fight another day, and Brexit remains on course. Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

Although Jeremy Corbyn's MPs managed to score a cheap political point over the Tories in this week’s Commons vote — the fact is that his party is far more deeply split over Brexit than the Conservatives

Barring some unforeseeable event, Mrs May will still be in No. 10 on that date, and — regardless of a handful of bitter malcontents — leader of a united Tory Party.

However, a similar assertion cannot be made about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Even though his MPs managed to score a cheap political point over the Tories in this week’s Commons vote — a hollow victory they celebrated by singing the Red Flag — the fact is that his party is far more deeply split over Brexit than the Conservatives.

And, Mr Corbyn’s own political posturing — he’s an instinctive Brexiteer — becomes more embarrassing by the day.

Particularly insulted by Labour’s cynical and muddled approach to Brexit are millions of the party’s traditional supporters who voted to Leave in last year’s referendum.

The brutal truth is he heads an increasingly unsustainable coalition made up of two contradictory groups that can never be reconciled.

One group comprises largely the middle classes and younger people. They passionately want Britain to remain part of the EU and do not believe mass immigration places an unbearable strain on social cohesion and public services, jobs, housing. These people mainly live in economically more prosperous London and the South of England.

Mr Corbyn’s own political posturing — he’s an instinctive Brexiteer — becomes more embarrassing by the day

The second group comprises traditional working class voters in the Midlands and the North of England. A fascinating insight into the attitudes of the latter came on Thursday when BBC1’s Question Time was broadcast from the former mining town of Barnsley in Yorkshire.

As per usual with the BBC, the panel was biased towards Remainers. Three of the five (Tory MP Nicky Morgan — one of the 11 rebels on Wednesday, Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey and Labour peer and fertility expert Lord Winston) wanted the UK to stay in the EU. But their arguments were destroyed by several audience members.

One man expressed views which, I suspect, are shared by a majority of local people.

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Turning his fire on Ms Morgan, he accused her of committing a ‘treacherous act’ against the Conservative Party. He also rebuked her Labour rival, saying she belongs to a party which ‘should be defending working class communities’ but which was actually betraying them.

He also pointed out that Labour’s support for Britain remaining in the Single Market would lead to ‘unrestricted migration’ — adding that Barnsley voted by a big majority to Leave. (The number of votes cast in the town in June 2016 was 38,951 to remain a member of the EU, and 83,958 to leave.) Explaining the reason why, he said the EU had ‘damaged the working class communities’.

I have rarely heard such an eloquent contribution on Question Time — from a panellist or a member of the audience.

Ms Morgan and Ms Long-Bailey looked very uncomfortable as the man spoke. He did not say which party he supports, but I guess he speaks for millions of Labour voters in the North and the Midlands.

Strongly-held sentiments such as his explain why Labour has struggled woefully to come up with anything resembling a coherent position on Brexit. The fact is the party’s policy is utterly confusing. One minute it is in favour of the free movement of people — the next it is against. Then a shadow minister wants Britain to stay in the Single Market and customs union — only to be contradicted by another shadow minister. Some in the party demand a second referendum —others claim they are happy to abide by the 2016 vote.

This confusion is an utter insult to the British people.

Condemned men

 There has been a chorus of condemnation of inexperienced new Chief Whip, Julian Smith, after last week’s Commons defeat — and reasonably so. He’s clearly not up to the job.

However, party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin deserves more blame. Wednesday’s humbling would never have happened if he had done his job properly. Mrs May should waste no time in getting rid of this piece of deadwood in her ministerial re-shuffle early in the New Year.


No wonder Mrs May teased Mr Corbyn at a recent Prime Minister’s Questions over the vexed issue of the Irish border, saying: ‘Half the Labour party wants to stay in the Single Market and half the Labour party wants to leave the Single Market. The only hard border around is right down the middle of the Labour party.’

Labour’s shambles is based on two factors — serious disagreements between its MPs, and a cynical desire to take any line, however contradictory, if it believes it can embarrass the Tory government.

More worrying, through this cynical opportunism, Labour is also pursuing a seriously amoral strategy. It is trying to woo different parts of the country and social classes with different messages.

While voters in the South and young people are told Labour is in favour of Britain staying in the Single Market and it would still allow unlimited freedom of movement for EU citizens, people in the North are told Labour opposes continued membership of the Single Market and would end freedom of movement. For the time being, Mr Corbyn is just about getting away with such shameless trickery.

But this can’t go on for ever and, at some stage soon, he has to come down on one side or the other.

Crucially, Momentum, the far-Left pressure group which provides the bulk of Mr Corbyn’s most ardent supporters and which is increasingly pulling his strings, appears to favour freedom of movement. (Significantly, Momentum backed Remain in the referendum campaign.)

This probably explains why Mr Corbyn seems to be tentatively moving towards a position that supports remaining in the Single Market.

Meanwhile, Momentum’s power inside Corbyn’s Labour party grows insidiously as it carries out Soviet-style purges to deselect moderate Labour councillors — as is exposed by Guy Adams’s investigation elsewhere in this paper.

To be fair, nothing is certain. Labour’s position has altered so much in the past 18 months that it may change again.

But the more anti-Brexit it becomes, the more it can say goodbye to many of its voters in northern constituencies such as Barnsley.

Such people are being abandoned and taken for granted by Labour — and for that matter, too, the Tories — as happened before the Brexit referendum.

No wonder the veteran Labour MP Frank Field (who voted Leave) said on Thursday: ‘Labour faces wipeout in large numbers of seats which voted determinedly to leave the EU . . . Any more messing around in an attempt to cripple our Brexit negotiators could spell electoral disaster.’

Several weeks ago, I warned that Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity may well have peaked.

I now believe that unless he can resolve his party’s problems over the EU, it will begin to subside — and very fast.


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