Jeremy Corbyn has been clear for a while that Labour will vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the Commons. But it’s worth keeping an eye on the reaction in his party to the development of a second line in the Labour position, which is that the party has a better plan for Brexit.
Today the Labour leader urged the Prime Minister to ‘prepare a Plan B’, telling the Commons that ‘there is a sensible deal that could win the support of this House based on a comprehensive customs union and strong single market deal that protects rights at work and environmental safeguards’. This is of course based on the ‘six tests’ that Keir Starmer has been applying to May’s Brexit negotiations over the past year, but it is agitating those Labour MPs and activists who want their party to campaign to stop Brexit, rather than offer a modified version of it.
Corbyn recently enraged pro-EU MPs by telling Der Spiegel that ‘we can’t stop Brexit’, and appears to be gearing up to run a campaign about Labour offering a ‘better Brexit’, which could tear open the party’s split on the matter, just as it is trying to present a united front against May’s deal. A number of MPs feel that opposing Brexit is so important to Labour’s mission as the Opposition party that to offer any kind of alternative would be a serious dereliction of duty. Meanwhile, those on the ‘Lexit’ (left-wing Brexit) side of the party feel it would be a dereliction of duty to pretend that Brexit isn’t going to happen.
The Labour leader tried to appeal to both parts of the Labour vote in the closing lines of his statement by setting out the worries of Remain and then Leave voters. Remainers, he said, ‘voted for an outward-looking and inclusive society, and they fear this deal and the rhetoric of the Prime Minister’. Meanwhile ‘many people from areas that voted Leave feel this deal has betrayed the Brexit they voted for’ because ‘it does not take back control’. He is likely to find over the next few days that a number of his own MPs feel betrayed on Brexit, too.