Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Tory defeat in the Supreme Court over the Article 50 process to trigger Brexit is excellent. He says:
‘The Government has today been forced by the Supreme Court to accept the sovereignty of Parliament.
Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.
However, Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.
Labour is demanding a plan from the government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given Parliamentary approval.’
And Keir Starmer, Labour’s spokesperson on Brexit, pressed the government today along the same lines. We need to understand what will happen next.
The government will – probably this week – table a bill in parliament to be voted on to trigger Article 50. It wants the discussion to be just about that.
Corbyn is saying that Labour will table an amendment. The substance of that amendment will be to rule out Britain becoming a corporate tax haven.
That was the blustering threat that Theresa May made at the end of her speech on Brexit last week. It looked like a misstep then. It can be turned into a big mistake now, but we need to fight to do that.
Labour’s amendment speaks to a part of the issues that really matter to working people in Britain and which in all sorts of ways underpinned the Brexit vote.
Most people want greater equality, not less over pay and wealth. They want public investment not corporate tax breaks. A million people use foodbanks while City bonuses are soaring again and the cabinet is stuffed with millionaires.
That’s what we want the antagonisms in Britain to revolve around – not where different working people come from.
The Labour amendment is a way to make those things central. There may be a procedural fight in parliament to get it heard. And everyone should be with the Labour frontbench in doing so.
The way the votes work in parliament is that when the bill is debated the first vote is on the amendment. Instead of a defeatist attitude to this move by Labour, it is a chance to argue everywhere to put every MP under pressure to vote with the Labour leadership in saying yes to democracy, no to threats of a corporate handover.
Those pro-EU Tory MPs who for their own – largely pro-business – reasons say they oppose Brexit need to feel pressure to vote for Labour’s amendment.
UKIP – led by a man who wants to privatise the NHS – claims it is for the ordinary person. Will it support Labour’s move to put people not profit first in the Brexit process?
The Lib Dems claim to be an opposition to the Tories. Will they be spending their time supporting the amendment or attacking the Labour leader?
Will all Labour MPs do the same? The SNP? Plaid? Caroline Lucas?
What Corbyn is trying to do is absolutely right. We have a good idea of how Tories and Lib Dems will be exposed by it.
But on the left – people really need to unite and try to make a popular argument around this, which the parliamentary response by Corbyn helps us to do.
Grandstanding from the Lib Dems
The responses from the Lib Dems and, I am sorry to say, the Green MP today are little but grandstanding and headline-hunting.
They are offering no way forward for the vast majority of people and it is noteworthy that the hardship millions are facing now in Britain did not feature at all in anything that Tim Farron or Caroline Lucas said.
It is petty politicking – in the most ruthlessly realist terms as well as on the grander field of what the leaders of these parties actually offer.
The Tories have a majority in parliament – a small one, but a majority nonetheless. The Lib Dems have a big measure of responsibility for that. They put Cameron in when he failed to win a majority in 2010 and kept him there for five years. Then their anti-Labour, anti-leftism meant that their vote unwound in key seats to give the Tories a slim majority in 2015.
The only Tory MP who has voted against triggering Article 50 is Kenneth Clarke. It will be triggered.
That is leaving aside that three of the now nine Lib Dem MPs rebelled on the last vote and refused to go along with Farron’s line of trying to overturn the referendum result.
Farron cannot win a third of his MPs to his position. So leaving aside his anti-democratic policy, his talk of a second referendum is just grandstanding aimed at getting flattering coverage in the liberal media and perhaps winning a couple of seats at a future general election.
It is contemptuous of the mass of people who are suffering from the NHS crisis and much besides. And how does he hope to get a second referendum? Via a general election, perhaps? But he has refused to rule out going back into coalition with the Tories if there were a hung parliament again.
Caroline Lucas says she will “vote against Article 50”. But she spent half of her response to today’s news targeting Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Her opposition to the government is in danger of turning into a Trident missile and going off in the opposite direction to hit the wrong target.
Corbyn’s Labour is putting down an amendment in parliament ruling out Theresa May’s nasty but stupid threat to turn Britain into a corporate tax haven if the Brexit negotiations breakdown.
With Trump stuffing his cabinet with corporate billionaires, and a Tory government of millionaires, that is the ground to fight on. The SNP would do well to fight on that ground rather than some immensely convoluted case bent around a second independence referendum, which it is not clear that most people want and still less clear that they could win.
The Lib Dems do not want to fight on that ground because they are not opposed to corporate power. They helped make George Osborne chancellor, and he’s just taken a £200,000 post in the world’s largest hedge fund, while still daring to remain an MP – and take his salary plus expenses.
The Greens do oppose corporate power. But their one MP in parliament should in that case unite with Corbyn in doing so, rather than not even mentioning that the Labour leadership is trying to make the fundamental issue of inequality and ending austerity the political question around Brexit and not the right wing attempts to make it all about where different people come from.
If the Labour amendment were passed it would be an enormous blow to Theresa May.
Of course, the Tories have a majority. But people who demand voting against giving effect to the referendum result are in no position to say Corbyn is wasting his time by putting forward an anti-government amendment.
It has more chance of passing than utopian calls to vote down Article 50, when three Lib Dem MPs rightly didn’t do that on account of how anti-democratic it would be, not to mention most Labour MPs being – like most of the country – in favour of respecting the referendum result, even if only on democratic grounds.
But this is about how the whole question is framed in a country where people are on trolleys in hospital corridors, dependent on food banks and about to see an unprecedented cut to their children’s school budgets.
It was common ground on the broad left before last year’s referendum that we should make opposition to the rigged economy and austerity central to politics in Britain.
That should be common ground now.
It is also common ground that we are in favour of democracy, and mass political participation against the elites.
Yes to democracy, no to the corporate tax cheats.
That is what the Labour amendment and tactics in parliament represent politically.
And that is opposition to the Tories. Even in parliamentary terms it makes perfect sense. Fighting on that ground enables Labour – and any others who want to join them – in the Commons and Lords to bombard the government around amending the legislation.
It may even be possible to force the government into exposing itself further by using anti-democratic procedures to get the bill through unamended.
Most of that is for the tacticians in the Labour whips’ office.
But for the left we need to rally and take this argument widely. It would help very much if the Labour membership and groups like Momentum threw themselves into this as well.
This is the way to confront the Tory government.