By Michael O'Sullivan
Last week we learnt that Jeremy Corbyn would be enforcing a three line whip on all Labour MP’s, making it very difficult for them to rebel and vote against the triggering of Article 50.
Although many Labour Brexiteers were pleased with this decision, it didn’t seem to be a politically astute move, based on the very fluid problems facing the Labour leader. Given that the indication is that the bill will likely pass the house with only a handful (if that) of Tory MP’s likely to vote against the triggering of Article 50, then perhaps Mr Corbyn should have allowed his MPs a free vote on this national issue of conscience?
There is no need to force MPs whose constituencies voted to Remain to trigger Article 50 if they would prefer not to do so. If all remain constituency MPs voted against, and the rest for, then the Bill would still easily pass, with only 39% of all constituencies voting Remain (according to data from the University of East Anglia and analysts at Nomura.)
Jeremy Corbyn has put a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself and this could eventually cost him his job. More than 100 Labour MPs who have been irked by Corbyn's three line whip decision are planning on voting against the triggering of Article 50 along with all of the SNP. This will be highly embarrassing for the Labour leader. His deputy Tom Watson was quick to suggest that any MP who does decide to resign over this issue, will be allowed to return to the shadow cabinet within months.
A source close to Mr Corbyn highlighted the fact that there have been "lots of resignations in the last year and lots have returned".
Mr Corbyn told ITV's Peston on Sunday: “There was no need for anyone to resign at this stage.
"It’s obviously impossible to carry on being in the shadow cabinet if you vote against a decision made after a very frank and long discussion of the shadow cabinet earlier this week."
The whole situation really does question the need for a three line whip, especially if the consequences are already confirmed to be superficial and temporary.
But even worse for Mr Corbyn is that he may have also begun alienating his own base. The Canary, a staunch Corbyn supporting digital magazine said on Friday “Corbyn has chosen to back the government without guaranteeing that the most vulnerable people, and the most valued principles of our participation in the EU project, will be protected post-Brexit. “It is a decision that could sink his leadership of the party, and kill off any chance of a bona fide leftwing alternative among the national Westminster parties. This is a colossal mistake.”
There is also a growing dilluisment with the handling of Brexit in private by a number of Labour MPs, in particular the dictatorial posture taken by Mr Corbyn and the legalise style presented by the Brexit Minister Keir Starmer. Many in the party feel they are operating within their own bubble, and are not taking into consideration the wishes and wants of the PLP.
It is clear that Mr Corbyn is stuck between a rock and a hard Brexit. The divisions within the Labour party are certainly troublesome and anchored in electoral arithmetic. While 65% of Labour voters backed Remain, 161 (roughly two-thirds) of its constituencies voted Leave. There can be no easy remedy here, but whatever he decides to do, Mr Corbyn is likely to alienate large swathes of the parties support.
With Labour’s woes set to continue there doesn’t seem to be any obvious answers. Perhaps the party would be best served by following the lead of pragmatic Remain Labour MPs such as Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Andy Burnham, Pat McFadden, Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds. They have the foresight and courage to understand that triggering Article 50 is simply a political reality and must happen. They also acknowledge that freedom of movement and EU sovereignty are no longer viable political policies to pursue if the party has any ambitions to ever govern again.
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