From one story of internal division to another, the Labour Party is hurtling closer to having to take a stance on Brexit, and, as their own Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer admitted this week, the Party don’t agree on what this stance should be. Next Tuesday’s vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill initially looked like it would be a simple battle between two options: Support the Government’s Bill as it is, or support the amendments tabled by the House of Lords which essentially call for the UK to remain in the Customs Union. However, as the countdown to the vote ticks on, it’s looking more and more like Labour’s leadership will try and duck out of either option, and instead table their own separate amendments. A third way, so to speak, full of non-committal language and vagueness.
Labour are no strangers to a little game of fudge when it comes to Brexit. Wishy-washy statements about wanting the best arrangement possible with Europe followed by a hasty change of subject was the name of the game during the 2017 General Election, and it worked. But how long can it keep working? If Labour threw its weight behind the House of Lords amendments on Tuesday, it’s possible – likely even – that the Government would be defeated. Corbyn has real power here, if only he’d choose to use it. And Labour’s vote base is overwhelmingly made up of Remain voters. They forgave Corbyn for his divergence on Brexit a year ago, but will they keep forgiving him if he resolutely refuses to obstruct the path to hard brexit?
The bumbling MP in The Thick of It once brilliantly stated: ‘I’m standing my ground on the verge,’ in an attempt to sound like he was taking a stand when he was actually doing nothing. Abstaining on the Lords amendments and tabling new ones will be Corbyn attempting to make not taking a stand seem like taking a stand. The reality is though, that this will do nothing but muddy the waters, divide the opposition, and clear the way for Theresa May to get what she wants. At some stage, he will have to come off the fence. Either he supports the Brexit being pursued by the Government, or he tries to prevent it. Over to you Mr Corbyn.