Labour MPs Now Accept Brexit Because Jeremy Corbyn is No Longer Their Leader

Image: Novara Media

JVL Introduction

Aaron Bastami of Novara Media skewers the hypocrisy of so many Labour MPs.

Hving castigated and pilloried Jeremy Corbyn for not having opposed Brexit enthusiastically enough they’re now queueing up to urge that we “get Brexit done”.

“The sad truth” suggests Bastami “is that these same MPs have since changed their tune on Brexit for the simple reason that Corbyn is no longer their leader.”

This article was originally published by Novara Media on Wed 16 Sep 2020. Read the original here.

Labour MPs Now Accept Brexit Because Jeremy Corbyn is No Longer Their Leader

On Sunday morning, Labour’s Rachel Reeves went on the Andrew Marr Show and argued we need to get Brexit done. This is the same MP who almost exactly a year ago told a rally in Leeds that there should be a second referendum “with Remain on the ballot”, adding she would campaign thereafter for Britain to remain in the EU “for jobs, investment and our NHS”. 

As with many Labour MPs on a range of issues, it’s unclear what Reeves really thinks. If she still believes that Brexit is so injurious to things she deeply cares about, then why give a relatively free pass to perhaps its hardest iteration? Why the appeal to a slogan which, at the last election, she would have opposed as simplistic?

Such questions can be extended to MPs across Labour’s front bench, whose default position now – of accepting the referendum result – was until recently derided by various pundits as disaster socialismdoing the Kremlin’s bidding, or simply meaning they were secret Brexiteers. Is this the case now for Keir Starmer? Or Rachel Reeves? Will we proceed to hear allegations that they secretly voted Leave four years ago for merely accepting a result which prevailed with a majority of more than a million?

After all, this is precisely what happened to Jeremy Corbyn in the summer of that fateful ballot. Back then Labour MP Chris Bryant imputed that the Labour leader had voted Leave, which was then was ‘confirmed’ (or rather, it wasn’t) when the New Statesman’s George Eaton said, in a now deleted tweet, that he was “near certain that Corbyn voted Leave” and “the papers have more tomorrow”. Like the vast majority of conspiracy theories relating to the former Labour leader, Corbyn secretly backing Brexit didn’t start from an anonymous Twitter account, but was actively pushed by credible journalists and Labour MPs. The story percolated through to a broader ‘common sense’ in the media, one example being when Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis described Labour’s position, of simply accepting the result, as showing the party to be “ideologically wedded to Brexit”. One suspects such flagrant editorialising won’t happen with Corbyn’s successor. The question is: why not?

Even Michael Savage at the Observer – that parish noticeboard for Remain-ultras whose front pages in recent years have consisted of millionaire-funded push-polls rather than anything actually newsworthy – is praising the wisdom of Starmer’s position, despite it being exactly the same as Corbyn’s after 2017. People with spider emojis in their Twitter bios delight at the strategic genius the Labour leader is exhibiting by pursuing exactly the same line which, this time last year, they would often equate with enabling fascism.

In June 2019, the party’s then deputy leader Tom Watson opined how “the core values of the EU are: internationalism, solidarity, freedom. They are British, Labour values. Our future doesn’t need to be Brexit.” At the time I found such an intervention astonishing; after all, Watson’s seat of West Bromwich East – where Labour had actually seen its vote increase by almost 8% in the 2017 election – overwhelmingly voted Leave in 2016, with Ukip almost overtaking the Tories in the previous year’s election. Had Watson gotten his wish, he would have undoubtedly lost his seat at the next time of asking. Watson clearly knew this himself, which is why he chose to exit politics just months ahead of the 2019 election – after which the Tories picked up his constituency for the first time since it was formed in 1974. The only reasonable explanation for such a sequence of events is that Watson was so intent on removing a party leader he disliked that he committed the political equivalent of hara-kiri.

The sad truth is that such views were widely held by Labour MPs at the time, and that these same MPs have since changed their tune on Brexit for the simple reason that Corbyn is no longer their leader. I say this not to relitigate past battles – these are over and the Tories have prevailed in the post 2008 conjuncture – but to highlight a deep-seated mendacity at odds with any hope of re-energising a mass, socialist politics in this country. While that possibility might seem distinctly unlikely right now, it is not implausible. Avoiding similar mistakes in the future will be critical to its achievement.

The electorate aren’t stupid. Yes, people might not be on top of every policy debate, but they can’t stand hypocrisy. This is true for both parties, which explains why the Dominic Cummings debacle was the moment Labour made the most ground in opinion polls this year. Such brazen duplicity and double standards register more with the electorate than the dashing repartee of Prime Minister’s Questions, no matter how ‘forensic’.

Corbyn’s weakness is that he is not a politician in the conventional sense – in other words, he is bad at deception and dissimulation. For obvious reasons this was also, at various points, his strength. Alas, this was entirely lost with the party’s embrace of a second referendum – something which, ultimately, the former leader must take full responsibility for.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the last three years it is this: whatever the predictive modelling and the large data sets say, whatever the smart pundits claim or computer science whizz kids predict, it’s generally a bad idea for politicians to openly break promises and lie. That’s what Labour ended up doing on Brexit late last year when an anti-establishment politician increasingly looked, and acted like, the establishment.

The 2016 referendum was the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history, and the opposition were punished for acting as if that meant nothing at all. Little else could have solidified the caricature the right seeks to paint of the left and centre-left: fearful of popular sovereignty, insulated from the public, and prone to conflating those with whom they already agree for a more general consensus. I suspect many Labour MPs knew this, but for them it was a win-win situation of stopping Brexit or defenestrating a leadership they despised. They may have got the latter, but that doesn’t mean the issue of Britain’s departure from the EU is over. Why would the Tories want it over and done with when Labour have behaved so dreadfully on the matter these last few years?

Aaron Bastani is a Novara Media contributing editor and co-founder.

Comments (9)

  • Margaret West says:

    I agree entirely with Bastani in that some Labour MPs have manipulated what happened during 2016 – 2019 with respect to Corbyn. I feel though that the situation is more nuanced than is implied and the PLP are reluctant now to say anything about Brexit – at all.

    In March 2017 virtually the whole of the Labour Party voted for Article 50 – that the UK should leave the EU in March 2019. I do not recall a second referendum being discussed either then or during the 2017 Election?

    I am a committed Remainer but wished just for a decent Deal and felt uncomfortable at the growing enthusiasm for another referendum by the LP. I felt this was arrogance and would not be acceptable to the electorate – later confirmed by the dreadful results for
    Labour in the May 2019 Local Elections. In the early hours afterwards the pleading by Labour Council Leaders that the second referendum policy was responsible should surely not be ignored – yet it was.

    And yet … and yet … if the policy voted for in the 2018 Labour Conference
    is carefully analysed what it comes down to surely is “We will have a referendum only as a last resort if there is a lack of consensus in Parliament”.

    I feel that it was regarded that way by Jeremy Corbyn and after the 2017 Election this certainly seemed possible. There was a fear that by default the UK might “fall out” of the EU with no deal. May ignored the result and still persisted in her “red line” and fear of the Tory Right.

    When Johnson was elected Prime Minister – the second referendum appeared the least of several evils .. The resulting shenanigans need not be described but he managed to cleverly manipulate the situation as a “People vs Parliament” confrontation and that he represented the people.

    It was good though to see Miliband attacking Johnson – who for once did not get away with his bluster. The “forensic approach” does not really work on its own with Johnson – like pinning jelly to a wall… Miliband did better in emphasising that Johnson is supposed to be charge and is responsible for the ensuing problems. The PM cannot continue blaming everyone else: the scientists, the teachers, the opposition and of course with Brexit, the EU.

  • steve mitchell says:

    I would advise reading Peter Geohegans’ book “Democracy for Sale” There is plenty of evidence there to show the Referendum was fraudulent and should have been declared null and void. Brexit did no start off as a conspiracy but it was highjacked by the far right. Their outriders ; think tanks and others such as Aaron Banks got away with fake news and a tsunami of a false information. They were given huge amounts of money by American billionaires whose aim is to get rid of regulations and install a Small State. If that happens then nothing can be done about climate change Those wealthy individuals and institutions are climate change deniers .Money was funneled to the Leave campaign the DUP. A plethora of websites sprang up to pump out anti EU propaganda. Anyone can set up a website for the price of a couple of beers. The mainstream media then printed the same falsehoods This was a coordinated effort. One of the consequences of Brexit will be a Far Right ,populist government in the UK. The only organisation that could stop that from happening ,the Labour Party, is completely impotent. now. Democracy itself is at stake.

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    Do Mr Starmer and co not realize that with chopping and changing their political viewpoint on issues people worry about like Brexit for example, they do not gain people’s trust, rather the opposite. By focusing on ousting the best PM we never had, they have enabled an incompetent tory government to wreak further havoc on the country. And all stinks to high heavens.

  • Jack says:

    This hypocrisy can be easily explained by the fact that some MPs are conviction politicians and some are careerists who will bend their views to upset the least number of constituents.

    As to whether the Referendum was democratic, well that’s up for debate. How can any election be democratic when voters are lied to and do not have all the salient facts upon which to make a decision. Professor Micheal Dougan, EU law expert from the Liverpool Law School, described the background perfectly prior to the Referendum but because of the right wing bias in our media, the BBC and others kept it quiet.

  • Allan Howard says:

    The massive big elephant in the room that Aaron Bastani leaves out of his assessment is the influence of the corporate media and the semi-corporate BBC, and the power it wields itself, and to the ‘voices’ that disseminate their objectives. If Jeremy had been advocating to Remain in the months and years after the referendum, I have little doubt that his enemies within the party would have taken the contrary view.

    To omit to mention and include the power and the influence of the MSM in any assessment of politics and political developments is to omit to include the biggest player in the ‘game’.

  • Clare Palmer says:

    “these same MPs have since changed their tune on Brexit for the simple reason that Corbyn is no longer their leader. ” I would think there is much more to it than that. The strong evidence at the 2019 election of the gulf between the PLP and the voters on this issue would have made any other outcome very unwise. I voted Remain, I am deeply grieved by Brexit, and particularly Johnson’s Brexit, but I can’t see any other way forward than accepting it will happen.

  • Robert Charleson says:

    Actually I’ve always thought Corbyn was a Left Leaver. Otherwise why was his immediate reaction to the 2016 vote a call for Article 50 to be triggered? I saw him say that on TV.

  • Margaret West says:

    Corbyn gave more speeches during the referendum campaign than anyone else in the Labour Party – including Alan Johnson who was supposed to head up the “Labour for Remain” campaign. However they were never reported by the MSM – “If you were not on the Telly you did not campaign” was then the assumption. Granted – Corbyn campaigned on his own and did not (so far as I know) appear on the same platform as Remainers who belonged to (say) the Tories. This was as a result of a decision by the LP to NOT share a platform with other parties as they had done during the campaign for Scottish Independence.
    (See report by a London University Research Group.)

    I read that Corbyn went straightaway for Article 50 – due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the protocol for Leaving. I do not believe he voted to Leave ..

    As for the nature of the campaign – I do not know about it being fraudulent but it was certainly ill thought out in every respect. The more extreme Brexiteers insisted “Leave means Leave” in the sense of leaving the Single Market etc. However this surely gives those who were happy with the Single Market etc. yet wanted to Leave [the EU] no effective vote. Where is the logic of that? There were many questions too concerning problems with the Northern Island border but every time the questioner was fobbed off.

    Goodness knows what willhappen – we now have the worst prime minister I can ever remember. Max Hastings was his boss and judged him “unfit to be prime minister … the Johnson premiership could survive for three or four years, shambling from one embarrassment and debacle to another, of which Brexit may prove the least..” (Guardian, June 2019.)

  • Doug says:

    The PLP is Blairs legacy to the Labour Party and we know from the internal report they prefer a Tory government
    Not to be confused with members and supporters who fought day in day out for a JC government
    What we need at this moment in time is for the class action to go ahead and to win every NEC seat up for grabs, including the unions in upcoming elections

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