VIDEO clips of grim-faced Theresa May frozen in embarrassment as MPs guffawed in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s question about following Boris Johnson’s advice to let Donald Trump lead EU negotiations should have dominated today’s front pages.
Instead, the Prime Minister was let off the hook by self-indulgent and self-deluding Labour MPs more intent on undermining their own leader.
Praise singers for the ploy of backing a House of Lords amendment that Britain should seek full membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) after leaving the EU claimed this constituted an Achilles’ heel for May since many Tory MPs would back it.
So they urged Corbyn to stand existing Labour policy on its head and whip party MPs to support the EEA option.
Quite why they believed that whipping Labour MPs to swallow this disastrous tactic might deliver a solid pro-EEA phalanx is difficult to understand given their own cavalier disregard for leadership instructions.
In the event, their carefully constructed castle in the air full of Tory rebels disappeared like a soap bubble, leaving only serial obsessives Kenneth Clarke, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry.
Such was the willingness of Tory MPs to line up behind their embarrassment of a leader that she had an overall parliamentary majority to defeat the EEA proposal, rendering the unprincipled manoeuvring of Labour’s disloyal backbenchers entirely futile.
Not that this will have dismayed the hard-core anti-Corbyn MPs — the likes of Chris Leslie, Wes Streeting, Neil Coyne and Chuka Umunna — who pontificate about Labour’s failure to take a commanding lead in the polls but accept no responsibility for their role in encouraging portrayals of the party as deeply divided through constant efforts to undermine him.
Labour backed the Remain side during the June 2016 EU referendum, but its 2017 general election manifesto recognised and accepted the electorate’s close but clear decision.
His back-bench back-stabbers have not reconciled themselves to democratic verdicts with which they disagree. They miss no opportunity to subvert the referendum decision and, by so doing, damage the Labour leader’s credibility with the electorate.
Corbyn has made clear the party line that Labour does not support the EEA or Norway model, since Britain would then have to follow EU internal market rules without any say in formulating them.
EEA membership wouldn’t allow a Labour government to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union, as Corbyn favours. Nor would it resolve the Irish border issue.
Some previous Remain advocates, such as Caroline Flint, have changed position, recognising strong feeling in their constituencies and understanding that up to 70 per cent of Labour-held constituencies delivered a Leave majority.
They see that backing the EEA to flout the people’s choice would scupper Labour’s electoral hopes entirely, leading the aforementioned Leslie to accuse Flint of resembling Jacob Rees-Mogg.
She was one of 15 Labour MPs who voted against the Lords EEA amendment rather than following the whip, which is understandable, if not totally helpful, as a counter to the pro-EU factionalism.
Her forceful rebuttal of Remain camp allegations that Leave voters were motivated simply by racism, xenophobia and opposition to immigration was also a declaration that needed making.
The Tories and their media would love to be able to process their Leave agenda with as little interference as possible by highlighting splits within Labour.
Labour MPs should accept that the Leave decision cannot be reversed and give solid backing to their leadership’s position on defending working-class interests against the Tories’ pro-City priorities.
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