‘Love Corbyn, hate Brexit’: Labour faces Brexit split

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is bracing for a tumultuous debate on the toxic issue of Brexit at its annual conference on Tuesday amid deep divisions between delegates.

Many young members oppose it, carrying bags reading “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit” at the gathering in Liverpool, while older, working-class Labour voters are in favour.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has so far played a canny game by allowing the debate to tie the government in knots while remaining ambiguous, but the time is nearing to reveal his hand.

“It’s decision time and we need to nail our colours to the mast,” Emily Wallace, chair of the Vauxhall Labour party, told the media on the sidelines of the party conference in Liverpool.

Her delegation plans to vote in favour of a conference motion on Tuesday supporting “all options remaining on the table”, including the possibility of a second referendum on Brexit.


The motion’s wording was agreed on Monday after five hours of intense talks and it disappointed many party members, who had hoped for a firm commitment to a second vote on a final Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU.

Labour’s policy on Brexit is significant because of the current weakness of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, which lacks a stable majority in parliament and could face defeat by MPs if and when it brings a final deal with Brussels for a vote.

‘Remain on the table’

Pro-EU activists were dealt another blow when shadow finance minister John McDonnell on Tuesday said any second vote should not include the choice of whether or not to stay in the EU.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer contradicted him, saying the motion “clearly keeps remain on the table”, while pro-EU MP Stephen Kinnock told the media he was “baffled” by the comments.

The confusion reflects the ideological and tactical splits within the party, which Corbyn has largely masked through vague messaging, instead focusing on unifying domestic issues.

However, with Brexit negotiations entering the final phase, the pressure is on Corbyn to plot a clear path in order to capitalise on May’s weakness in the negotiations.

But the way ahead is far from clear and polls show the country is still more or less divided on Brexit — although a narrow majority might now support staying in the EU.

Labour’s traditional leftwing working-class constituencies voted largely to leave the EU.

“The EU was a social democratic movement, and it was a good idea, but after the financial crash, it decided to bail out the banks at the expense of the people,” Brexit supporter Les Thomas told AFP at a protest against a second referendum.

But the centrists who took charge when Tony Blair became party leader in 1994 strongly favour the EU, and despite being sidelined by Corbyn’s election, they comprise a large rump of the party’s MPs.

Ultimate prize beckons

The most complex set of voters are the new members, many young, who were attracted to Corbyn’s social justice agenda, but who tend to not share his historic suspicion of the EU and its free-trade policies.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, with a wrong move potentially returning Corbyn to the political sidelines.

If he can bridge the party’s divides, the ultimate prize beckons.

Speaking at a pro-EU demonstration at the conference, Claire Hallett, 60, said Corbyn was in “a terribly difficult position” but should come out firmly against Brexit.

“He really needs to stand up and be clear. He will get a load of support from people who are not natural Labour voters,” said Hallett, who runs a holiday cottage business in Wales and attended the rally with her dog Desmond dressed in an EU flag.

“If Jeremy Corbyn were to come out and support a second referendum, and they had a snap election next month, I think they would win.”

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

James Pheby
James Pheby
AFP journalist based in London.

Related stories

$500m for Covid test, treat, vaccine

France, Spain, the European Commission and Britain as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged money for equity in the treatment of Covid-19

Alassane Ouattara: In the eye of Côte d’Ivoire’s perpetual succession crisis

His road to the presidency was anchored in contention and acrimony, and if his bid is successful, Alassane Ouattara will have ruled for two decades when all is said and done.

An African free trade area is in our sights

Successes and failures from other initiative such as the European Union will be instructive, but much work must be done before the African Continental Trade Area becomes a reality

Study shows land redistribution can create new jobs in agriculture in South Africa

When South Africa eventually emerges from the fog of the Covid-19 crisis, will policy makers be ready to grasp the nettle of farm scale, and promote the large-scale redistribution of land to small-scale producers?

Johnson defends under-fire virus ‘test and trace’ scheme

The scheme uses an army of 25 000 tracers to contact people who may have been exposed to the virus

Africa can build back better after Covid-19

The continent’s interconnectedness is what will be its catalyst for recovery
Advertising

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against the president

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Ruling deals crushing blow to zero-hours contracts

Ferrero factory workers have won the first battle in what might become one of South Africa’s next wars on casual and precarious work

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…