JACK DOYLE: Labour’s Brexit battle is just beginning

JACK DOYLE: Civil war could destroy Corbyn as Labour’s Brexit battle is just beginning

While the Conservatives have been beating themselves up centre stage, Labour’s internecine war is probably more bloody.

Many argue that since the Tories are in government and Labour hasn’t been in power for more than nine years, Jeremy Corbyn’s problems are less important.

But the truth is that whoever becomes the new prime minister, a General Election is likely sooner rather than later. In which case, Corbyn’s policies must be held up to the same level of scrutiny as Boris Johnson’s and Jeremy Hunt’s.

Forget the constant barbs about Corbyn ‘sympathising’ with the IRA and Iran, and refusing to accept that Putin’s goons were behind the Salisbury poisonings. The wheels may well come off Corbyn’s rickety bandwagon because his fellow Labour passengers are warring with each other

This week, Corbyn found himself more isolated and vulnerable than at almost any time since he became leader.

The central axis of the Labour Party — his close alliance with Marxist firebrand John McDonnell — has become strained to breaking point.

Matters came to a head at a meeting of Labour’s shadow cabinet on Tuesday. McDonnell distanced himself from Corbyn on the most important — indeed, defining — political issue of the day, Brexit.

So strong was their relationship that McDonnell (above) disagreeing with Corbyn had been as unlikely as Marks & Spencer going their separate ways. (Or should that be ‘Marx’?) Their spat follows deputy leader Tom Watson challenging Corbyn’s authority by saying Labour ought to be an out-and-out ‘Remain party’

These two comrades have been fellow travellers on the Hard Left for decades — both wanting to revolutionise British politics along Marxist lines, dismantling free markets and redistributing money they want to seize from the rich.

Theirs is not just a political but a strong personal allegiance, forged while discussing fringe issues at poorly attended socialist rallies. As shadow chancellor, McDonnell has been loyal to Corbyn, defending him against a series of attempted coups by moderate MPs.

But now McDonnell has made clear his frustrations over his boss’s pathetic vacillations on Brexit and refusal to back a second referendum.

He has accused Corbyn of being ‘indecisive’ and described Labour’s Brexit policy as a ‘slow moving car crash’.

Crucially, too, there is the baleful figure of union baron ‘Red’ Len McCluskey (above) who has bitterly attacked supporters of a second referendum, saying they have ‘no interest in a Labour victory at the next general election’

Forget Tory attacks on Labour’s ‘Venezuela-style’ plans to renationalise utility firms which would cost billions of pounds and leave millions of pension savers out of pocket. 

Forget the constant barbs about Corbyn ‘sympathising’ with the IRA and Iran, and refusing to accept that Putin’s goons were behind the Salisbury poisonings.

The wheels may well come off Corbyn’s rickety bandwagon because his fellow Labour passengers are warring with each other.

Instead, they are left losing a battle for the soul of their party and increasingly worried about the threat from Nigel Farage’s rampant Brexit Party. So, inevitably, it is only a matter of time before Corbyn abandons the last vestiges of his pro-Brexit position and makes the Judas switch to Remain

So strong was their relationship that McDonnell disagreeing with Corbyn had been as unlikely as Marks & Spencer going their separate ways. (Or should that be ‘Marx’?) 

Their spat follows deputy leader Tom Watson challenging Corbyn’s authority by saying Labour ought to be an out-and-out ‘Remain party’.

And then this week, long-time Jeremy buddy, Diane Abbott, disloyally said that she ‘worries’ about party strategy and that he doesn’t understand the amount of discontent among Labour members over its muddled and contradictory Brexit policy.

Abbott, in response to someone on Twitter, said: ‘Like you, I have supported Labour’s Brexit strategy so far. But, like you, I am beginning to worry…’

What many had hoped and expected was that Corbyn would draw a line under Labour’s equivocation over Brexit.

Such views are based on the fact that the vast majority of the shadow cabinet want a second referendum and that if Labour is elected to power, it would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.

While the Tories realise that if they fail to deliver Brexit, they will be electorally dead, Labour is convinced that it must champion Remain voters to survive.

Typically, though, Corbyn has dithered — asking for more time to decide which way to jump. Of course, there are several reasons why he won’t yet. 

At heart, he’s a Eurosceptic who, like his hero Tony Benn, has long regarded the EU as a great capitalist plot to crush the workers.

He saw Brexit as an opportunity to liberate Britain from EU ‘state aid’ rules which would stop a Labour government using billions of taxpayers’ cash to prop up nationalised industries, and other Brussels regulations which would prevent it from imposing strict capital controls on the City of London.

Crucially, too, there is the baleful figure of union baron ‘Red’ Len McCluskey who has bitterly attacked supporters of a second referendum, saying they have ‘no interest in a Labour victory at the next general election’. 

For he is convinced it would alienate traditional voters who voted Leave in 2016. The Unite chief also said Watson was like ‘a poor imitation’ of Machiavelli — a scathing reference to the Italian philosopher whose name is synonymous with unscrupulous plotting.

Indeed, McCluskey is so keen to make Brexit happen that this week he reportedly visited Downing Street for talks with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

But Labour Leavers are in the ascendant. The estimated 30 MPs in pro-Leave seats, who recently warned that backing a second referendum would be ‘toxic to our bedrock Labour voters’, fear the game is up. 

Privately, many regret not voting for Theresa May’s EU exit deal when they had the chance to help her get it over the line.

Instead, they are left losing a battle for the soul of their party and increasingly worried about the threat from Nigel Farage’s rampant Brexit Party.

So, inevitably, it is only a matter of time before Corbyn abandons the last vestiges of his pro-Brexit position and makes the Judas switch to Remain. 

He knows that if he doesn’t, his hand will be humiliatingly forced by grassroots members at October’s party conference, and that his own position would become perilous.

Typically, though, Corbyn has dithered — asking for more time to decide which way to jump. Of course, there are several reasons why he won’t yet. At heart, he’s a Eurosceptic who, like his hero Tony Benn (pictured above), has long regarded the EU as a great capitalist plot to crush the workers

His enemies are circling. Prime vulture, deputy leader Tom Watson, has wrapped himself in the EU flag, declaring: ‘Our members are Remain. Our values are Remain.’

For his part, Corbyn was also spooked by Labour’s appalling European elections — for example, the Lib Dems won more votes than Labour in his own Islington stronghold — that he has little choice but to capitulate.

His supine attempt to stay neutral and let the different wings of his party fight it out, has failed miserably. 

So much for his withering indictment of the Government — ‘Where the Tories have divided and ruled, we will unite and govern’ — in his party conference speech last year. He has been exposed as a weak leader of an increasingly divided party.

As night follows day, Labour will formally abandon the last vestiges of its support for Brexit and become emphatically the party of Remain. 

When that eventually happens, it will become clear to millions of Labour Leave voters that they have been cynically betrayed.

And when it comes to the next election, Corbyn’s party — to all intents and purposes the ‘Remain Party’ — will pay a huge price.

Boris Johnson repeatedly refuses to rule out ‘proroguing’ (suspending) Parliament if he becomes prime minister and MPs try to stop him forcing through a No Deal Brexit.

But he won’t just face opposition from Speaker John Bercow and from all sides of the Commons if he resorts to this ancient prerogative power, long seen as the necessary ‘nuclear option’ by hardline Brexiteers.

I am told that Buckingham Palace takes a very dim view of the idea, as it would be the Queen who would have to carry out the request.

As prime minister, Mr Johnson may be prepared to face down Brussels, Tory Remainers and the 16.1 million who voted to stay in the EU to get Brexit through. But even he would not want to embarrass the Queen

When the issue was first mooted several months ago when Mrs May was looking at No Deal options, Buckingham Palace advisers made their objections clear ‘in no uncertain terms’.

‘They told us very firmly they did not want the Queen dragged into a Brexit constitutional crisis,’ an aide said.

The Queen is said to have painful memories of the controversy that followed her appointment of Alec Douglas-Home as prime minister to succeed an ailing Harold Macmillan in 1963.

There were unfounded allegations that the Queen had colluded with Macmillan’s wish to block his deputy, Rab Butler.

Understandably, she wants to avoid anything similar and to maintain the monarchy’s political impartiality.

As prime minister, Mr Johnson may be prepared to face down Brussels, Tory Remainers and the 16.1 million who voted to stay in the EU to get Brexit through. But even he would not want to embarrass the Queen.

 

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