A Spectacular Betrayal of Labour Voters writes Peter Oborne

Even by Westminster’s current lowly standards, Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to endorse continued membership of the European Single Market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, is an act of grotesque hypocrisy.

It is a betrayal of everything we know the Labour leader believes — dressed up as concern for jobs and the economy — done for calculated political gain and, ultimately, to thwart Brexit.

This is a man who voted against British membership of the EU in 1975. Ten years later, he opposed the introduction of the Single Market.

In fact, Mr Corbyn has never supported any piece of pro-European legislation. He is a Eurosceptic through and through.

So to allow the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, to write an article in The Observer yesterday making it clear that, under a Labour government, the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on trade and economic issues and pay into the EU budget for a ‘transitional period’ after Brexit is a repudiation of everything he has ever personally believed.

Starmer also outlines an option whereby the UK could remain a member of the Customs Union and Single Market for good, should a Labour government negotiate a special deal on immigration and freedom of movement rules.

Hypocrisy aside, this is a spectacular betrayal of millions of Labour voters, mainly in the Midlands and the North, who voted for Brexit in June last year.

Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Cabinet have shown that their Labour Party is just as contemptuous of ordinary voters as Tony Blair’s New Labour was.

It’s only a month since Corbyn confirmed on The Andrew Marr Show that he would take the UK out of the Single Market. Now we have this U-turn — and what a nauseating spectacle it is.

Under normal circumstances, I would dismiss Mr Corbyn’s latest stunt as contemptible and ignore it. Sadly, not on this occasion.

Labour’s timing is perfect. Mr Corbyn is taking advantage of the massive vacuum over Europe created by Theresa May’s dithering.

During the 13 months of her premiership, she has come up with plenty of tough rhetoric, declaring repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and insisting that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.

However, these strong words have not been matched by actions. The Prime Minister has failed consistently to spell out her vision for what Britain should look like after we leave the EU.

She has struggled to decide whether she wants a clean departure from the EU, or a departure that leaves our trading relationships intact.

A clean break would mean the UK regains 100 per cent control of our law and our borders — which is exactly what the majority of British people voted for in the referendum.

But the City and businesses have repeatedly warned that a clean break would damage our trade with Europe, with a potential cost in jobs: the so-called ‘cliff-edge’ argument.

They continue to demand that we stay in the Single Market as part of a ‘soft Brexit’ deal under which we would remain subject to the rules of European courts, during a transition period, so that trade could flow easily.

Mrs May has been unable to make up her mind between the two approaches. To make matters worse, the Tory Party appears desperately split.

Most of the Cabinet wants a ‘soft Brexit’. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the man who is effectively Deputy Prime Minister, Damian Green, are all pressing for a version of this.

Well, they would, wouldn’t they: all were Remainers during the referendum campaign.

The only senior voice holding out against this coalition of Remainers appears to be the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. Though he may be an isolated figure in Cabinet, his position is strongly supported by Tory activists and MPs, as well a majority of opinion out in the country.

Mrs May, a naturally cautious politician, is stuck between two camps — but time is running out for her.

Brexit negotiations restart today; early next month the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons for its second reading, and it’s only 18 months before the UK is booked to leave the EU.

There is, understandably, some frustration among European leaders that the Government, for all the position papers and grand-standing by its negotiators in recent weeks, has yet to come clean about what it wants.

Labour’s shift in position — establishing itself as the party of ‘soft Brexit’ — plays into the hands of Brussels’ hardliners who do not want Britain to leave.

I believe that Mrs May must make her choice, and soon.

She can come down on the same side as Philip Hammond, big business, the Remainers — and now Jeremy Corbyn — and opt for a soft Brexit. Or she can support Boris Johnson, Tory activists, and the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit.

Of course, both choices will put the Prime Minister’s political survival at risk.

If Mrs May plumps for clean Brexit, the weight of big business and the political establishment will turn against her.

But if she plumps for a deal with Europe, she faces an explosion of anger and discontent from inside the Conservative Party and the country.

With barely five weeks till the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, it’s shaping up to be one of the most mutinous and explosive periods in modern political history, with pro-EU Tory MPs under intense pressure to rebel against their own party.

Keir Starmer’s article has set off a political earthquake. In his defence, that is what the Opposition is supposed to do.

But there is a fascinating paradox here. Jeremy Corbyn, who has dedicated his life to revolutionary socialism, has, in his old age, turned into the voice of the British Establishment.

The Governor of the Bank of England, the Director-General of the CBI, the Civil Service, the Diplomatic Corps, the BBC and Tony Blair are all suddenly on the same side as the ageing revolutionary.

And why? Because all these Establishment figures rightly believe that Labour’s dramatic shift on Brexit is the best way of sabotaging it.

Under the Corbyn plan, we stay in the EU in all but name, doing what the Brussels commissars and European judges tell us — and continuing to pay vast sums for the privilege. You might very well ask what was the point of leaving in the first place.

I am certain that the latest Labour proposal is part of a carefully thought-out Establishment plan to delay and — finally — to halt Brexit.

Is it a coincidence that arch-European Tony Blair is to meet EC President Jean-Claude Juncker this week?

The Remainers are still too cautious to come out and demand that the referendum result should be reversed. But they want to do everything they can to undermine it — and Corbyn’s Labour Party is their chosen vehicle.

Soon they will be going further and demanding a second referendum.

These are uncharted political waters in which the future of British democracy is at stake. We are entering extraordinary times.

 

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