Kevin Maguire: Labour is counting the cost of its high-risk Brexit strategy

Written by Kevin Maguire on 19 January 2017 in Opinion

Labour MPs such as Clive Lewis could do fresh damage to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership by voting against triggering Article 50.

Insurance underwriters evaluating the Brexit exposure of political parties would propose a low premium for the Liberal Democrats.

Pitching for every Remainiac vote is low risk for Tim Farron when the immediate aim is for a Parliamentary group able to fit in a nine seat VW Caravelle to upgrade to a mini bus by winning a few seats.

Euro enthusiasm helped nick Richmond Park from Brexit Indy Tory Zac Goldsmith, so it’s back to the future with a reprise of the 1980s and 1990s when embracing the European Union was an article of Lib Dem faith.

In the words of one of Farron’s closest aides: “Opposing Brexit isn’t just the best card the party has to play. It’s the only card.”

Fighting the EU departure is also relatively low risk for an SNP. Nicola Sturgeon’s party is always on the look out for a grievance to exploit, particularly when Scotland voted to stay and an English Tory prime minister is constructing the hazardous road out.

The potential downside, which is likely to see underwriters recommending a slightly higher premium, is Brexit delivered would call first minister Sturgeon’s bluff. Linking Brexit and a second separatist referendum is hazardous when push comes to shove. The Queen of Scotland’s more afraid of rejection than straining for an endorsement of independence. No numpty, Sturgeon is well aware that Quebec-type double defeat is the end for her Cry Freedom nationalism dream.

Britain wouldn’t be heading for the exit door without Ukip spooking David Cameron, yet the moment of triumph is equally a grave danger for the Purple Shirts. Ukip was a one trick pony and, as Labour’s Beast of Bolsover Dennis Skinner put it, the pony’s bolted when Nigel Farage galloped off to join Donald Trump’s circus of horrors.

So Ukip may be a victim of what it wished for when Farage, a former Tory, hailed May for speaking Ukip’s “phrases and words” in the Lancaster House statement. The fear is Kippers under new tutelage will turn up the anti-migrant volume from prejudiced to outright racist against a backing track of betrayal by Traitorous Theresa. Whatever else it is, the Stoke Central by-election won’t be good for community cohesion.

Insurance premiums for the Tories would be high when May isn’t immune from a Europe virus which destroyed her No 10 Tory predecessors Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

Behind the Downing Street unity spin the Cabinet is split with Philip Hammond versus David Davis and Liam Fox on the customs union. Meanwhile the Conservative Remainer majority in Westminster is utterly horrified that the PM’s opted for a hard Brexit.

Gushing headlines in the Brexit press was a free gift and the economic fallout will be on May’s watch, so there’ll be no hiding behind a copy of a supportive newspaper when harsh reality hits the No 10 fan.

But Labour’s probably uninsurable for Brexit, a toxic issue for a party representing 20 of the 25 seats with the largest Remain majorities and 20 of the 25 with the greatest Leave results. The Labour battle is between those who want to concede Brexit and others determined to confront Brexitgeddon. Changing the conversation isn’t an option.

Frontbenchers and backbenchers threatening to vote against triggering the Article 50 countdown, shadow business secretary Clive Lewis among them, would challenge what’s left of Jeremy Corbyn’s shredded authority in a rudderless party.

Corbyn’s response to May lacked the clarity of Farron's. The Labour leader, never an EU enthusiast, is a Dr Dolittle pushmi-pullyu when John McDonnell’s leading him into seeing Brexit as an opportunity for socialism in one country while another of Jezza’s influential comrades, Diane Abbott, tugs him to sustain free movement.

And shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer’s ears must be burning when his judgement that May’s plans “fall short of hard Brexit” was slated by Labour MPs on the non-Corbyn wing of the quarrelsome party.

Labour’s stumbling and groping for a united, credible position was symbolised, muttered a despairing former shadow cabinet member, by a four-hour delay after May’s speech in the distribution of briefing lines for MPs to take - arriving after Brexit secretary David Davis’s quizzing in the House of Commons.

Exclusions in the T&Cs small print of travel insurance policies list wars, coup d’etats and nuclear detonations among the disasters that a company won’t pay out on.

Labour has endured all three in the past 20 months and the reluctance to hammer May’s hard Brexit, every day warning of the dangers of jingoistic isolation and reminding us of that £350m a week for the NHS lie, encapsulates a fatal lack of political confidence and leadership.

Far from framing debates, Labour looks confused. The danger is irrelevance on the biggest issue of the decade.



Kevin Maguire is associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror

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