The left should be fighting for a Labour government to negotiate Brexit in a progressive way—not trying to find new ways to destabalise Corbynby Richard Seymour / June 30, 2017 / Leave a comment
What was Chuka Umunna’s quelled backbench rebellion all about? It wasn’t, certainly, about a principled position on single market membership, as he suggested in these pages. He had previously argued that Britain should be prepared to leave the single market in order to have a populist crackdown on immigration.
But like many on the Labour Right, Umunna is skewered between conflicting opportunisms. It is traditional for them to triangulate to the right on immigration, but they also see Brexit as a potential wedge issue for weakening Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. This is particularly important after general election results which greatly strengthened Corbyn, blocking the accession of a fresh-faced Blairite leadership for the foreseeable future. In the words of Malcolm Tucker: unforeseeable, that’s what you are.
So, Umunna’s amendment, seeking to commit this government—and thereby a future Labour government—to single market membership, could plausibly be read as a leadership wheeze. Yet relatively few MPs were willing to get on board. Labour Remainers, according to the editor of BBC Newsnight, have expressed impatience with Umunna’s “vanity amendment.” The Remainer leader of Unison, Dave Prentis, has issued a statement denouncing this “distracting” “symbolic rebellion.”
Some have remarked on the supposed irony of Corbyn sacking shadow ministers for breaking the whip, when he is a lifelong Labour rebel. Stephen Daisley regrets that Blair never ‘sacked’ Corbyn for his rebellions. But ‘sacked’ from what? From the back benches, Corbyn was able to oppose the leadership’s line without the responsibilities and loyalties that he ought to now demand of his shadow cabinet.
Still, many decent Labour MPs with a good track record also supported the amendment. For some of them, it’s an issue of principle. But it shouldn’t be. Committing the UK to single market membership in advance of negotiations is a bad idea in principle, and not just because it was orchestrated by a conniving careerist.
Part of the problem with any discussion of the EU is that it is obscured by journalistic clichés. We talk about ‘hard Brexit’ and ‘soft Brexit.’ This sort of language makes sense in a defensive context, when ‘hard Brexit’ means “what the Tories plan” and ‘soft Brexit’ means “damage limitation.”
But if we’re really looking forward to the possibility of a Labour government negotiating Brexit, it’s time for Labour…