11 Sep 2017

Brexit Bill: What’s Labour’s game?

Old Labour hands from the Maastricht battles had been urging the Labour leadership not to vote against the EU Withdrawal Bill tonight but to no avail. They feel the lesson of the protracted Maastricht process is that you should vote for the principle of the Bill so it is harder to accuse you of sabotage…and only then should you tie the government up in knots on amendments (there were some 600 or so over Maastricht).

Instead, tonight, the Labour line is to vote against the Bill, risking some accusations of sabotage. Plenty of them were sprayed around the Commons chamber this afternoon, and bringing the additional awkward publicity of a smallish but significant rebellion.

Labour is walking a difficult line, showing some ankle to the armies of disaffected Remainers who backed them in the snap election while honouring the referendum result and the Labour-supporting Brexiteers beyond London who, some MPs say, are already badgering them with emails asking what the party is playing at.

Into this tricky situation the Labour leader today inserted an slightly unhelpful extra ingredient.

In an interview on BBC World At One, Jeremy Corbyn spawned headlines proclaiming that he might want to keep the UK in the Single Market in perpetuity.

That would be one mighty shift in Labour policy.

It looks like Jeremy Corbyn was actually trying to state existing Labour policy but got tangled trying to point out the technical point of whether it is possible to be “in the Single Market” whilst being outside the EU. Many are using “in the single market” as shorthand for “replicating the single market perks”. Mr Corbyn’s words, at face value, could suggest a readiness to sign up to freedom of movement, an essential pillar of the Single Market for EU members.

What’s telling is that Labour MPs I chatted to weren’t that alarmed. They shrugged it off because, they said, they’ve come to expect Jeremy Corbyn to use language pretty loosely on the EU. One frontbencher considered a loyalist to Mr Corbyn said: “he’s just not interested [in EU matters]….[and] doesn’t police his language as carefully as some.”

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