WHILE THE EYES OF THE WORLD have been on the presidential election in the US the battle over Brexit has continued to play out closer to home, with recent events putting the Labour leadership in an increasingly difficult position.
There is little doubt that of the main party leaders Corbyn was most in line with the electorate in the run-up to June 23rd. Advocating a Remain vote while being realistic about the flaws of the EU and the need for change may not have pleased the establishment, but it’s unlikely that a more evangelical position would have changed the result.
The position Corbyn faces now is much more perilous. The tactic of criticising the government for the lack of detail on Brexit negotiations, and calling for the maintaining of workers’ rights and environmental protection, has been right but recent events have changed the game and raised the stakes.
The appointment of Keir Starmer to be Shadow Brexit spokesperson was a good one, and the forensic, lawyer’s mind approach that he has brought to proceedings in Parliament has exposed the Tories for being all over the place. Corbyn needs to utilise him more in the coming weeks and months.
The recent decision of the High Court, likely to be upheld by the Supreme Court next month, means that Parliament will play a role in triggering Article 50. This leaves Corbyn leading a Labour Party in which 98% of MPs backed Remain yet where their constituencies overwhelmingly backed Leave. This leaves two options in the face of a parliamentary vote, neither of which are particularly appealing and could have electoral consequences.
The first option is to block the triggering of Article 50 until a clear strategy has been set out and assurances given either on single market membership or putting the final deal to a referendum. This would certainly please voters in the urban areas who voted Remain, but would leave Labour wide open to attack from UKIP, especially in the North, were there to be an early election. Some Labour MPs including David Lammy have stated they will take this approach.
The second option (the one Corbyn has set out) is to try to get as much information as possible, but ultimately not block Article 50. Of course the fact that the threat to block isn’t on the table means the government is less likely to make concessions. This approach leaves Labour open to threat from Lib Dems in some areas of London and other Remain voting pockets including Cambridge and Bristol, but it still may not be enough to stop the progress UKIP is making in the North.
The worst case scenario looms on the horizon. Unable to get a Brexit deal through the House of Commons, the Tories may go for an early election. This would leave Labour open to attack from both the Lib Dems from the pro-EU side and UKIP from the anti-EU side. When you include the rising anti-establishment feeling and the current polls, things could look very perilous indeed for Corbyn in the coming weeks.