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Labour can’t fight Brexit – or an election – on Johnson’s terms

BORIS JOHNSON has found himself and his gradually recomposing party into something resembling a win-win situation over yesterday’s parliamentary manoeuvring.

His threat to withdraw the Withdrawal Bill if Parliament failed to approve his programme motion, which sets out the timetable for a scrutiny of the government’s proposals, was designed to capitalise on what he perceives as the electoral advantage conferred on him by the long delay in getting Brexit done.

Johnson’s strategy — of which the Morning Star warned some time ago — is to fight an election on either of two narratives.

First, as the man who got Brexit done. Or, failing that, the man who would have got Brexit done but for a perfidious Parliament which was elected on manifestos which proclaimed the inviolability of the referendum result but which has since mobilised every parliamentary tactic to delay and frustrate the people’s will.

Just to state the question in the terms that Johnson will seek to impose on the election campaign is to illustrate the power of that narrative.

The government has a very powerful factor working in its favour in that the European Union Establishment (essentially the Commission and its bureaucracy and the Council of Ministers) is satisfied that the main elements in the British Establishment (principally big business, the state bureaucracy and the banks) are on the same page as them. This is not just Johnson’s deal, it is the EU’s deal.

If we needed any more confirmation that this is the path our ruling class is increasingly agreed on, it came from a former Cabinet secretary who set out in measured tones the increasingly settled view of the powers that be that a second referendum is not a runner.

If Johnson has something of a majority for his Bill he doesn’t have the numbers or the authority to have it all his own way and a section of Labour parliamentary opinion would want a customs union to be inserted via an amendment to the Bill.

This is perhaps one mutilation too much for the government. Hence the threat to pull the Bill.

Labour in Parliament twice voted against Johnson’s bid to get agreement on an immediate general election. This requires a two-thirds majority under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and could not be easily obtained while Labour wanted a Brexit extension before a snap poll.

Jeremy Corbyn is more game for an election campaign, where his great strengths are put to best advantage, than some Labour MPs whose preference to see a referendum held first arises from mixed motives.

Some do not appear anxious to discount the impression that they see defeat as a mechanism to displace the party leadership.

While the innocent supporters of People’s Vote were drifting home from their Whitehall march — to keep the world much as it is — their more far-sighted strategists were contemplating the impasse their campaign has reached but were also locked in an internal power struggle.

Meanwhile Corbyn was on the campaign trail on Merseyside, speaking to his now traditional crowds of ecstatic Labour supporters.

Among Remainers there are two tendencies. One wants any government but a left-led Corbyn one and frustrating Brexit is their strategy for achieving this.

Another wants above all a political renewal of Britain along the progressive lines that are emerging with Labour’s electoral programme.

It is now clear that a Labour strategy based on indefinite delay and parliamentary manoeuvring has run out of road.

This is the time to mobilise Labour mass support — among them a willing pool of trade union affiliates — into action for a winning combination of life-changing polices for the millions.

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