Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

Post-Brexit party games

  • Under the leadereship of Jeremy Corbyn (c), the Labour party remains ambivalent about Brexit and Britain's relation with the EU. (Photo: Reuters)

Unless you are a diehard Jeremy Corbyn supporter, Brexit is the dominant theme of this year’s party conference scene, the annual jamboree for politicians, activists, and hacks.

The Tory conference in Birmingham next week will be triumphalist. Most of the party’s supporters got the referendum result they wanted, and can look forward to the prospect of a long, uninterrupted period in power.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

If the Liberal Democrats’ gathering in Brighton was low-key, Labour's annual bash in Liverpool this week was a curious mixture of triumph and despair.

Corbyn was re-elected as party leader on Saturday (24 September), slightly increasing his mandate with a 62-38 percent victory over rival candidate Owen Smith. The wide margin of victory was expected, but it confirms that Labour has made a clear shift to the left.

Smith also tacked to the left in his campaign, focusing on Corbyn’s competence (or lack thereof) as a leader, while agreeing with Corbyn’s main policies, particularly on the economy.

Pitching himself as a ‘Corbyn-lite’ candidate was a tactical blunder, but the fact Smith felt he had to accept Corbyn’s agenda demonstrates how the mood in the Labour party has changed. Tony Blair's name is the dirtiest word in Labour politics, less than a decade after he was prime minister.

Corbyn has a very strong base of support - party membership has swelled from 200,000 to nearly 600,000 in the past 12 months - but there is little evidence that his popularity among activists is replicated in the country at large.

Opinion polls put Labour at least 10 percent behind the Conservatives, who can hardly suppress their glee at the prospect of facing Corbyn in an election.

Despite calls for unity from Corbyn, it is very unlikely that the majority of Labour MPs will publicly back his leadership three months after 80 percent of them passed a vote of no confidence against him.

It is worth remembering that the trigger for the leadership challenge was Corbyn’s lacklustre performance in the referendum campaign.

Same stance on migration

Most Labour voters and around 90 percent of its official and elected politicians campaigned for EU membership, and for most Labour Remainers the June referendum defeat was devastating. But at the same time, Labour's heartlands delivered some of the largest majorities for leaving the bloc.

It's not surprising the party is as confused on Europe as on its own future.

Much of what Corbyn said in his conference speech could have been said by a European social democrat 30 years ago. He demanded that employment, social protection rights, and environmental standards are protected in the future EU-UK settlement, as well as seeking continued access to the single market. However, Corbyn does want opt-outs from EU state aid rules to allow the British government to intervene in its industries.

Despite the fact that the Brexit vote among Labour supporters was, in large part, the result of public demands to limit migration and freedom of movement, Corbyn has not changed his stance on the benefits of migration.

“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages ... It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS ... It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis,” he said.

Instead, he said that a Migration Impact Fund should be reinstated to provide financial support for communities with high levels of immigration.

Half-heartedness

For the moment, Labour has, again, chosen a half-way house.

The consequences of Brexit did not make it onto the official agenda in the conference hall. But a motion that could, potentially, pave the way for a second referendum did.

Party delegates backed a motion stating that “unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained,” adding that “the final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum.”

It's this kind of half-heartedness and ambivalence that helped the UK to lose the referendum, and which has plunged Labour - so dominant a decade ago - into an existential crisis.

There won’t be much Tory soul-searching or half measures in Birmingham next week. Instead, there will be three days of political and intellectual battle over the direction of the Brexit negotiations. Except, unlike Labour, the direction taken by the Tories will actually shape the post-Article 50 world.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: preparing for a bitter divorce

Conservatives Brexiteers and Labour leadership are increasingly leaning away from the Norwegian-style deal with the EU, towards a UK-specific arrangement.

UK releases legal arguments on Article 50

In its recently released legal defence the UK government argues that neither the Westminster parliament, nor Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales has a say in when Britian will trigger the Brexit process.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexiteers still hunting for a strategy

Ten weeks after British voters decided to leave the EU, the government has still no idea what to do, but at least Labour has finally found a position.

UK to start 'hard' EU talks in March

British leader Theresa May has pledged to start EU exit talks in March, prioritising British “sovereignty” on immigration over single market access.

Column / Brexit Briefing

All hail the new establishment

Blair's return to British politics and Farage's likely lordship indicate that a new establishment is taking shape in Britain.

EU stays calm as two top UK ministers quit

EU officials said Brexit negotiations will not be affected by the resignations of the foreign secretary and Brexit secretary. European Council president Tusk noted that "unfortunately the idea of Brexit hasn't left" with David Davis or Boris Johnson.

Opinion

Brexit - why can't we just swipe left?

The entire Brexit debate since at least 2015 has been like a bad date. But this is the age of Tinder, why can't we just swipe left?

News in Brief

  1. VW owners to get diesel software update free until 2020
  2. Airbnb breaches EU consumer rules, Commission says
  3. EU sees no China free-trade talks
  4. Italy accepts migrant boat after help promises
  5. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  6. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  7. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  8. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU and China agree on words, not yet on action
  2. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  3. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  4. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  5. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  6. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  7. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  8. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us