Jeremy Corbyn looks like a 'hostage' as Labour gets tactical on Brexit

Written by David Singleton on 26 February 2019 in Diary

Labour's backing for a second referendum is a win for Keir Starmer and John McDonnell.

Jeremy Corbyn may have backed a second referendum, but the consensus in Westminster is that his heart is definitely not in it. One MP reckons that when the Labour leader read out his statement at Monday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party “it was a bit like watching a hostage read out a ransom note”.

Further evidence that Team Corbyn is not that excited came in the form of the press release announcing the move. In a bizarre bid to bury the news, the key line appeared halfway down among details about Labour’s voting plans for Wednesday night.

The major policy shift is being seen as a win for Keir Starmer and John McDonnell, who wants to be seen to be listening to the activists. The losers in the Labour Brexit power struggle include top Corbyn aides Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy. Also licking his wounds is Len McCluskey.

But the reality – as the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush quickly pointed out - is that the chances of a second referedum remain slim. The overwhelming majority of Tory MPs are committed to delivering Brexit and at least 43 Labour MPs have publicly committed to opposing another referendum.

Team Corbyn know this and the policy shift therefore has all the hallmarks of being a tactical move designed to keep Remain-supporting Labour members on board - and to stem the flow of further Labour MPs defections to The Independent Group.

But that hasn’t stopped a few Brexity Labour MPs from getting rather cross.

Leading the charge on the Today programme was John Mann, who insisted that some Labour voters would be appalled by the idea of voting on the terms of Brexit. The move would be “catastrophic to Labour in the Midlands and the north”, he claimed.

A tad audaciously, he also noted that “the last person to renege on their manifesto was Nick Clegg, it didn’t end very well for him on tuition fees”.


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