20th October 2019
Jeremy Corbyn – last chance looming
Boris Johnson has sent a letter to the EU requesting an extension to the UK withdrawal process until 31st January 2020. Johnson has sent the letter because he had to, under the terms of the Benn Act, but he as not signed it.
Johnson has also sent a second letter, which he has signed, making it clear that, while he was obliged to send the first letter, he does not agree with it and will press on to deliver his declared position of securing UK withdrawal from the EU by the 31st October 2019. This position has been confirmed by Cabinet Minister in charge of exiting the EU, Michael Gove, on Sky News this morning, who claimed that the government had “the means and the ability” to leave on 31st October.
EU Council President, Donald Tusk has acknowledged receipt of the UK’s letter requesting an extension and has said he will consult EU leaders “on how to react.” It is likely that EU leaders will sit on their hands for as long as possible, waiting to see what new drama unfolds in the UK Parliament before taking a view.
The Parliamentary chicanery which resulted in this position looks set to continue this week when the government proposes to bring its Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons, in order to get agreement in principle on Johnson’s deal, before the hand to hand combat of scrutiny and amendment proposals begins.
This process could be quickly circumvented however with a vote of no confidence from Labour and a motion resulting in a General Election. There is no prospect that the Bill the Tories present will be amendable in any way acceptable to Labour’s current position. Labour conference policy is to press for a General Election, after which a new deal can be negotiated with the EU and put to a referendum with Remain also on the ballot paper.
This in itself is a hugely compromised position, reflecting the extent to which the pro-Remain faction within Labour has gained ground and is effectively holding Corbyn hostage. However, the danger of pressure mounting inside Parliament for a second referendum, which poses Remain against a leave deal negotiated by Johnson, must surely be less acceptable to many on the Labour frontbench. A General Election is the only logical demand to make.
The schisms within Labour however may run too deep for this position to gain traction. Significant front bench weight, including John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Kier Starmer are weighing in behind a pro Remain position. Starmer has already said that Labour would support an amendment requiring Johnson’s deal to be put to a referendum, a proposal he expects to be tabled. The net effect of this would be a Johnson deal vs Remain referendum, effectively forcing those supporting Leave to back Johnson’s deal.
In any event a General Election would be certain to follow, which Labour would go into significantly weakened and divided, either because of a Remain outcome to the referendum, or having to live with Johnson having succeeded in his deal being endorsed.
Having tactically failed to press home the advantage of forcing a weakened Tory Party into a General Election in September, it would be a crime to compound the error further and not press for an election now, ahead of any discussion on the Johnson Withdrawal Bill.
Corbyn has a last chance to retrieve something from the current mess and outflank the backstabbers in his own party. Failure to do so is likely to set back the chances of a radical Labour government for a generation.