In Thursday’s parliamentary debate which followed the presentation of the now-infamous draft agreement with the EU regarding Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn—who has grown to display an undisputed mastery over what Trotsky used to call “parliamentary cant,” i.e. false and hypocritical political rhetoric—vigorously attacked May’s government, vowing he would never vote in favor of the draft agreement and calling it bungled, ineffectual and, first and foremost, against the interests of the British people.
On Wednesday, one of his spokespersons reiterated the official position of his party, saying that their priority was to push for an alternative Labour Brexit plan, which would “put jobs and living standards first.”
The party’s whips will do their best to get Labour MPs to vote accordingly when the draft agreement goes up for a final vote scheduled for early December, trying to contain any disobedience among their ranks. Contrary to what some naïve observers may think, this is not some genius-level Machiavellian plan—rather, the political line pursued by Corbyn’s Labour Party is straight out of Political Tactics 101.
Their official position is that the country should leave the EU, but remain in the single market and the customs union—a scenario many consider to be “impossible,” as it would keep the freedom of movement which is taken to be the true root cause of Brexit.
They have further elaborated their position in the form of the so-called “six tests” defined by the Shadow Brexit Secretary, the moderate Keir Starmer, which the final deal must pass to get Labour’s vote. First of all, the deal should ensure a future relationship with the EU that is “strong” and “collaborative.”
Then, it should bring “the same benefits currently enjoyed” by the country as part of the EU single market. It should defend the rights and protections in the labor market. It should protect national security and the ability to address transnational crime. And, finally, it should satisfy all the regions and nations that are part of the UK. Brexit has been a giant faultline, dividing not only the political parties but all social groups, including families and couples—a division at the personal level that is sadly reminiscent of what resulted from the historical excesses of radical left-wing governments. Even the Labour Party is divided on this issue, although not with the sheer self-destructive drive which underlies the Tories’ divisions regarding Europe.
Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic throughout his career. Like all true British Socialists, he sees the EU as the neoliberal entity it truly is, one that would forbid its member countries from engaging in various projects of nationalization. However, he must also hold his party together as its post-Blairite moderate faction, which has tried repeatedly to topple him in leadership races to no avail, is desperately seeking a return to strength through its militancy in favor of a second referendum, an option also promoted by the Liberal Democrats.
Accordingly, Corbyn is being criticized—particularly from the bland liberal center that has for a long time, rather inexplicably, passed for “the Left”—for not openly embracing the call for a new referendum.
For months now, Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have been prodded by centrist commentators and newspapers to declare support for this elusive second referendum. But it will simply not happen, at least for the foreseeable future. Especially not while the country is being ruled by a minority government and the Conservative Party is engaged in a bloody internal civil war that is advancing toward a final showdown.
The case for waiting it out is an obvious one: early elections may lead to a neo-Socialist Labour government, which would be able to renegotiate everything. This is simply the “action of inaction” counseled by the great Taoist master Lao Tze (which we can quote, for once, in a manner unlike the misquotations by Wall Street capitalists aiming to justify their crimes).
This is why the vote in the House of Commons—which will likely be May’s downfall and the end of her holding on to power by the skin of her teeth—remains, at this point, the only true battleground.