Ending support for freedom of movement could be Jeremy Corbyn’s Nick Clegg ‘free tuition’ moment
The Tory Brexit may have already split the country, but it now threatens to rip apart the party of its birth
Image credit: David Anderson
After two and a half years of negotiation and a complete failure to get parliamentary support for her Brexit deal, Theresa May’s impotency climaxed, if that is not an oxymoron, in an eight-hour cabinet lock-in at Number 10 where she came up with a cunning plan – to blame Jeremy Corbyn.
Ingenious, Baldrick. But let’s not forget that in the snap election of 2017, she warned the British public that Corbyn would be “alone and naked in the negotiating chamber of the European Union” if left in charge of Brexit.
And yet, now he is to become her fig leaf.
But then May is fooling no one. She alone is the architect of this disaster and no matter how much she wants to argue otherwise, a meeting of their political minds, no matter how disparate, is not how this process should end, but how it should have begun.
And now because of her intransigence, she has had to go cap in hand and in desperate times, to a man she has vilified as a danger to national security to bash out a plan for our country’s future. It shows a disregard for her colleagues and a contempt for us all.
May doesn’t do empathy, charm or even humility, and it was a disgrace that on the same day she was to sit down with her one-time adversary, shocking footage emerged of British Army soldiers using a picture of Corbyn for target practice and even then, she could not bring herself to express dismay. Instead, she reminded the House that he was not someone to be trusted.
It is perhaps to Corbyn’s credit that the meeting went ahead at all. But then he would not be the only MP to find her discourtesy bewildering.
On her own side, patience is running thin. Brexit is taking a wrecking ball to the Tories and May’s move to bond with Corbyn – whether cynical or not – has just rubbed salt into very raw wounds. Members have taken scissors to their party cards; two ministers have gone and many more are threatening the same.
This Tory Brexit may have already split the country, but it now threatens to rip apart the party of its birth. Corbyn could destroy the Tories and it’s by personal invitation of Theresa May.
But equally, if Corbyn agrees, as has been widely rumoured, to abandon party policy on freedom of movement in a concession to the PM, then this too could be the end of Labour. It would truly be his Nick Clegg tuition fees moment, his Blair Iraq folly.
Freedom of movement should not be up for debate by the leader of the Labour Party. It gets to the fundamentals about the global inequity of wealth, of education and of class. And it affords an optimistic view of the world to the young. To eschew it in favour of a ‘reasonable management of migration’ feeds right in to the bigotry and ignorance about European immigration that fuelled Brexit in the first place. And should have no place in Labour.
And while it’s true that some may have felt damaged by foreign workers, the truth that Labour should have been promulgating, and with conviction, is that EU immigration has been a boon to the economy. And in Scotland, we need it.
Labour needs to be very careful that when it gets into bed with the Tories, it doesn’t wake up sounding like UKIP.
These are existential moments in the political history of these isles. Brexit was meant to just be about leaving the EU and instead, it is ripping up our party-political system – maybe no bad thing – plunged us into a national crisis where no deal has actually become a favoured option and it has made us the laughing stock of the world.
It is also threatening, as many have predicted, to tear apart the UK. Brexit has undoubtedly always felt more of an English endeavour and to be exposed to the brutal nature of English nationalism has been ugly.
But it is to rewrite history to argue that Northern Ireland was anything more than an afterthought in a referendum campaign that was consumed by its own lies. The dangers of that are now clear.
And in Scotland, where more than 62 per cent voted to Remain, that vote has felt largely ignored.
And so, what of Ruth Davidson’s so-called block of 13 Scottish Tory MPs? What have they done to further Scotland’s case over the withdrawal from the EU?
Davidson returns from maternity leave in a few weeks’ time to the prospect that her party has managed to secure a no-deal Brexit and over the cliff we go. Where then will be the Scottish leader’s unequivocal support for Theresa May?
There is some talk of the Scottish Conservatives breaking free from their UK counterparts – ‘doing a Murdo’ – and there’s a motion been put to the party conference next month urging it to do just that.
And while it is unlikely that will be up for debate, how else does Davidson counter the argument that she is simply an instrument of the party of Brexit, the party of this omnishambles, the party that split Britain, the party that threatened the Good Friday Agreement, the party that did not stand up for Scotland?
None of that is a comfortable position for a party leader to be in, in a country still so overwhelmingly pro-European and when there is an election to fight in two years’ time. Maybe it will be time for Davidson to borrow the Prime Minister’s “cojones of steel” which she has so admired and spell out what she stands for now.
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