Tuesday 17 September 2019

John Downing: 'Corbyn's 'stupid' politics no help as rest of us wait in no-man's land'


Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: REUTERS
Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: REUTERS
John Downing

John Downing

So, we are 99 days from a crash-out Brexit - and what is the main focus of conversation?

Did Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn say "stupid woman" as charged? Or, did he say "stupid people?" - the charge to which he pleaded guilty.

Either way, it is not very parliamentary language to use when referring to Prime Minister Theresa May, in the first alleged instance, and it is only fractionally less offside as the collective abuse of the entire British Conservative Party.

But, on the day upon which the European Commission published its guidelines on how to deal with a no-deal Brexit, many people would have hoped for better.

We are repeatedly told, with good reason, that only a small minority of people anywhere want a no-deal Brexit. But that of itself will not prevent such an outcome.

In the boiling summer of 1914, few if anybody, in all corners of Europe, wanted war. But as the nations watched on, one thing borrowed another and we quickly had one of the bloodiest wars in history.

Yesterday's events clearly brought the slide to an accidental no-deal Brexit a bit closer. The behaviour of senior British politicians added to our anxieties.

Staying with war imagery, we can safely say Brexit is now in no-man's land. The EU has delivered a 585-page Withdrawal Agreement agreed in principle by Theresa May.

Last week, Mrs May decided her prospects of selling her deal were so poor that it was not worth risking going ahead with a scheduled vote in parliament. Instead she went to Brussels to hear a forceful message from the other 27 EU leaders that, while they want to help her sales mission, they cannot reopen the treaty text.

There may well be something cooking in the far background, in contacts between the EU and UK, focused on potential political guarantees. That might help a new effort to run that Westminster vote in the week beginning Monday, January 14.

Meanwhile, the rest of us wait things out. At Westminster, a very divided Labour Party is trying to manoeuvre its way to a general election. But under 2011 legislation that requires a two-thirds majority of MPs.

Its leader, unloved by his MPs since his election by the membership, is not an EU fan. He will not help Mrs May's minority government deliver ratification of her deal.

Mr Corbyn's party's efforts this week have been very poorly received as he was obliged to back away from an effort to push a no-confidence vote in the prime minister. His officials are maintaining a threat to change to a motion of no-confidence in the entire government. But they know it is odds-on that it would not pass. For Labour, a new referendum on Brexit would be a poor second to an early general election.

The sad part from an Irish point of view is that the party's policies favour the UK staying in a customs union with the EU and close to a border-free single market.

But, as the clock ticks down, Mr Corbyn continues to play politics - badly.

Irish Independent

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