Saturday

6th Mar 2021

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit vote devours UK's Labour Party

  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is "a very nice man but incapable of leading". (Photo: Reuters)

If the chatter in Brussels and capitals across the EU is about how and whether the bloc can survive Brexit, the same questions are being asked of the UK and its political parties.

“We’re doomed” messages started popping up on my phone from Labour party officials shortly after midnight on Thursday as the numbers from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East of England indicated a decisive swing to the Leave campaign.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Some of the post-referendum political carnage was easy to foresee. It was always likely that Scotland would vote strongly to remain in the EU.

Every Scottish region voted heavily for remain. A second Scottish referendum on independence is inevitable and could take place within a year.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon described the result as “democratically unacceptable” and, on Monday (27 June), said she was “determined to explore every avenue to retain Scotland’s EU status”.

“It is, therefore, a statement of the obvious that a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table," said Sturgeon.

Similarly, David Cameron’s immediate resignation in the event of a Leave vote was entirely predictable, with his political assassin Boris Johnson the likely successor.

Yet after a campaign in which the Conservative party descended into an entirely predictable civil war, and the result prompted a prime minister’s resignation, there is a strong case to say that the opposition Labour party is more broken.

Corbyn the saboteur

If the Conservative MPs were evenly split between Remain and Leave, it was assumed, rightly, that most Conservative party members and supporters would back Brexit. In other words, a Remain vote would have to be delivered by Labour voters.

It wasn’t, and the party may well be finished as a political force as a result.

Polling data suggests that 63 percent of Labour voters backed Remain, and Labour supporters in their city heartlands, particularly London, came out in their droves for Remain. But swathes of Labour seats in the North East, South and West Yorkshire, saw Leave majorities of 60-40 and more.

The blame for the failure lies primarily with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn utterly failed to persuade the party’s base, particularly the white working-class, to vote Remain.

Both Corbyn and his finance spokesman John McDonnell are left-wing eurosceptics in a party that is overwhelmingly in favour of EU membership.

The Labour Remain campaign was under-resourced and repeatedly marginalised by Corbyn’s team, led by press secretary Seamus Milne, a former journalist noted for his sympathy towards Russian president Vladimir Putin. As a result, Labour’s campaign was tepid to the point of non-existence.

On migration, Corbyn’s most significant contribution was to comment that it was impossible to control numbers as long as free movement of labour existed.

“Rather than making a clear and passionate Labour case for EU membership, Corbyn took a week’s holiday in the middle of the campaign and removed pro-EU lines from his speeches,” wrote Will Straw, the director of the Remain campaign, and a former Labour candidate, on Monday.

“Rather than confronting concerns about immigration with Labour’s values of contribution and reciprocity, Corbyn distanced himself from the manifesto commitment to restrict in work benefits for new arrivals to this country and planned a trip to Turkey to talk about 'open borders'.”

By Monday lunchtime most of Labour’s shadow ministers had resigned as part of a mass walk-out to force Corbyn’s resignation. The 230 Labour MPs will vote on a no-confidence motion on Corbyn on Tuesday and his removal or a fresh leadership election appears inevitable.

See no evil

A year after being demolished by the Scottish National Party in Scotland, what is to prevent the story being repeated in northern England, where UKIP took second place in dozens of seats in the 2015 election?

“Corbyn is useless. A very nice man but incapable of leading,” one party official told EUobserver on Friday, before the mass walk-out of shadow ministers started on Sunday.

The UK’s campaign-fatigued electorate will probably be sent back to the polls in October for a snap general election. In the absence of a functioning government or opposition, Nicola Sturgeon is the only senior UK politician offering leadership. For those who fear the collapse of the UK, this should be deeply worrying.

A Brexit vote was always going to open a Pandora's box. But nobody imagined how many layers and sub-sections it would have. The Leave campaign slogan to ‘Take back control’ won’t happen any time soon. In the meantime, UK politics, not to mention its economy, is in complete disarray.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy and a freelance writer.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column / Brexit Briefing

How Cameron's EU referendum silenced left-wing Britain

Most of the passion in an increasingly bitter campaign ahead of the 23 June vote comes from the Conservatives. Mobilisation on the left and by nationalists remains marginal.

EU leaders to seek clarity on Brexit date


EU leaders meeting in Brussels will discuss when the legal process for the UK exit from the EU could start, amid growing questions of whether it will happen at all.

Column / Brexit Briefing

A very British (and Corbynite) coup

Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to be re-elected as Labour leader might be successful thanks to freshly registred supporters. But Britain's main opposition party will remain clueless in a crucial moment for the country.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit plans missing in action

The Brexit referendum has created an almighty political and economic mess, with little sign of a British or EU plan to clean things up.

Belarusian spring: finding hope in dark times

These are dark times in Belarus, with the government tightening the screws like never before. They are preparing for spring just as much as the opponents of the regime are.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us