Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Friday 8 June 2018

Amendment wars and Corbyn wars

In the real world, UK business is tearing its hair out not knowing what on earth Brexit is going to look like. The EU warns its manufacturers about the dangers of sourcing parts from UK firms if the UK leaves the Customs Union, as Theresa May intends. Meanwhile the UK cabinet continues its arguments about which plan to choose out of two the EU has already rejected. And Remain twitter talked about Corbyn betrayal. While May is definitely in fantasy land, Remain twitter was also a little behind reality.

The Lord’s EEA amendment presented a great opportunity. But this opportunity died at a meeting of the PLP shortly after it was passed by the Lords. There are a significant number of Labour MPs who voted to Remain but who subsequently feel that some notice should be taken of those who voted to Leave. What this means specifically is that in the Brexit negotiations some attempt should be made to end or modify Freedom of Movement (FoM). Those MPs combined with a few Lexiters - Polly Toynbee thinks there are 60 odd - would have voted against the EEA amendment even if the leadership had backed it.

That, as they say, changed everything. There was no point in pro-EU Labour MPs putting a huge effort into changing Corbyn’s mind on the EEA amendment if it was going to fail anyway. All that Corbyn would have achieved if he had supported the amendment is to allow a distraction of Labour divisions on what hopefully will be a night of setbacks for May and Brexit. I think the Labour MPs who want to focus on immigration control are quite wrong to do so, but they cannot be ignored.

Voting down the EEA amendment alone would have sent a purely negative message to Labour’s overwhelmingly Remain supporting members and voters. So an additional amendment was put forward by Labour. Now this may have no chance of passing because ‘it comes from Corbyn’, but that tells us that the Tory rebels are also capable of putting party before country. It is vague, but it has to be so to keep the pro-immigration control Labour MPs on board. And I agree with Ian Dunt it is better to have than not.

As Ian says, it makes it more likely that Labour will vote against the final deal and that this vote is the crucial one if a referendum on the final deal is to become possible. I think some Remainers sometimes forget that the only way a referendum will happen is if parliament votes for it, and the only way that will happen is if Labour supports it because May will not. Finally the only way Corbyn will not be Labour leader when that decision comes is if he falls under a bus. So gradual pressure and persuasion is the name of the game. The more the Remain campaign resembles a get rid of Corbyn campaign, the more difficult it is for people within Labour to apply that pressure.

Unfortunately, press comment on anything to do with Labour increasingly resembles a pro or anti Corbyn debate. The fact that it was not common knowledge that there were a significant group of Labour members not attached to Corbyn who opposed EEA is quite understandable if you read the press comment at the time. Although that was the news at the PLP meeting, most reports just made it another Corbyn versus MPs story. That was what press coverage was like before the 2017 election, which helps explain Labour's dramatic increase in popularity during the election as voters saw for the first time what their policies were, and the media has now reverted back to this narrative. 

In my experience these MPs that want to try to end FoM for the UK or at least modify it tend to come from strongly leave voting areas. It is easy to say that they are being unrealistic in their wish, because the four freedoms are indivisible for the EU, but they are after all only reflecting the views of their constituents that the UK should try. Although we may strongly suspect the EU will say FoM has to go with being in the Single Market, this is a question that Theresa May has yet to ask because ironically the Conservative Brexiters are not very interested in controlling immigration.

Let me stress that I am in no way supporting these MPs refusal to back the EEA amendment - I support FoM - just as I think the leadership's reluctance to do so for different reasons is misguided. But to overcome objections to EEA you first have to understand where they come from. The idea that if it wasn’t for Corbyn Labour would be solidly behind joining the EEA is not only wrong, but it risks associating the Remain cause with the constant stream of attacks on Corbyn that can be found in the media on an almost daily basis, which in turn dilutes the pressure from Remain on the leadership and anti-FoM MPs.


  1. And your evidence that Corbyn has at any stage had any interest at all in backing the EEA option is what?

    He has consistently ruled it out.

    The idea he would have backed this, but for a few PLP Brexiteers tying his hands, is for the birds.

    He should have backed it even if it would have failed, because it would have enabled Labour to then say it has a rational alternative to what the government is doing.

    Instead it is backing an amendment that is purest cakeism.

    A ridiculous piece of Corbyn apologia.

  2. May apparently advised Conservative Remainers – who with the support of opposition parties could secure an amendment supporting the principle of an equivalent replacement CU - to wait for the EU to knock-back her latest offer to maintain a de facto CU, but one attached with an aspirational December 2021 time-limit. They, in turn, should not back down as a minimum from keeping the UK in an equivalent CU and maintaining regulatory alignment for goods and agriculture between the UK and the EU, until such time that a UK/EU FTA is agreed.
    May needs them to do that to avoid the need for NI/Ireland border infrastructure and could be angling herself for that result. By recognizing the inevitable that a comprehensive FTA could take years to negotiate, economic disruption in the short- to medium term could be minimised, while some negotiation wriggle room for FTA’s for services to be scoped and progressed, and for tweaks to FOM to be negotiated.
    Perhaps. Perhaps not. Whatever happens in the next three months, however, it is most unlikely that May will be able to offer any meaningful agreement for Parliament to vote on in the autumn; more likely is a continuing kick-the can-further down the road fudge that just about keeps he Conservative hard Brexit and Remainer factions on board, afraid that to jump ship would precipitate a Corbyn government.
    Given that context, it is worrying that so much store is now being put by Remainers on a ‘People’s Vote’. A second referendum on what? Starmer’s six tests? Revoking Article 50? Or a multiple choice on different options? What would Labour actually campaign on?
    There is little or no reason to believe that the public would come back with a clear Remain verdict. We would be back to Square One Minus X.

  3. With an expanded EU, if there is any chance of the UK population being persuaded of getting back into the EU, you have to get a grip on immigration, which means controlling freedom of movement.

    The expansion eastwards led to huge labour inflows. This pushed immigration as a political issue to a level it has never really been before. The fact that Britain could not control this very large scale immigration and with no sign of it ever abating was enough for people to actually want to leave the EU.

    No check on immigration, no chance.

  4. This Brexit hobby horse is rocking nowhere, We have been part of the EU since 1973, with the promis as in Britain Europe has been taken over by the Neo-Liberals and we can only guess what their real motives for their insanity is.

    To think that delving into the minute details of policies from this government expecting them to come up with anything sensible, is to overlook the deliberate chaos they have themselves engineered.

    The Labour Party is a mere spectator to this debacle and have as much influence on the outcome as you or I have, all they can do is to question and point out an alternative position that they think is possible.

    This government isn't listening, they have their agenda and the best outcome I believe they see, is a total collapse so they can blame it on the EU and indeed as everybody does on Jeremy Corbyn. I have never known a political period in my life when politics has been reduced to such banality, a government that has lied about not privatising the NHS, when they clearly are, that they claim to be strong and stable, when they are nothing of the sort, and now that after Cameron who completed negotiations with Europe and failed to deliver anything at all, was it any surprise that it was rejected?

    The same people that have negotiated the first round of talks are back in the driving seat, and as Albert Einstein said, to keep repeating the same thing, over and over again expecting a different result, is a sign of madness.

    To spell it all out in a nutshell, these Tories are working to an agenda, Theresa May like Thatcher came out of the Whitehouse hand in hand with the President, in this case Trump. What that means is that come hell or high water they are going to do a trade agreement with the USA. That means the start of the American corporate takeover of Britain, the NHS is being parceled up into bite sized chunks to achieve that end, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that, as we have seen it all happen before with our other public services. Only this time it is more specifically designed to meet the American health corporations mode of operation.

    Blaming the Labour Party as though it were a crucial part of these negotiations is pure fantasy, a vote has taken place, we are coming out, all they can do is offer their ideas and follow events as closely as they can, it won't be Jeremy Corbyn's fault if as I predict, the Tories deliberately scupper the negotiations - it's all down to the Tories.

    I have posted information from Eurostat themselves that show the dangers of trade imbalances within Europe, we are a net importer of other countries finished goods including Europe, that means we have lost our trading position, due again to the Tories that dismantled our manufacturing base under Thatcher. So we can't trade our way in the world and if we are to rebalance our own economy we will have to break EU competition rules, in order to invest in manufacturing industries and infrastructure.

    The other small matter as to what these Neo-Liberal politicians do in our name, we have to ask ourselves what secret deals are done on our behalf and behind closed doors with all these G7s, G20s, Bilderberg meetings etc., when we know what instructions are meted out there - it might give an indication as to why things just happen the way they do.

    Europe is a non argument, our problems facing the people of this country, are identical to those in Europe, hence the unrest in Spain and Italy and the rise of fascism.

    Mario Draghi admitted to Swedish Journalist at a press conference, that the ECB could never run out of money, and whilst they pour billions of Euros into the Banking and financial sector,it told the Greeks they must pay their way by earning Euros.

    A lot of people in this country really do have to wake up and smell the coffee.


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