A crisis in the Labour Party over the European Union (EU) has led to renewed speculation that left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn could resign or be challenged—yet again.
Corbyn has rightly said Labour will not try to block Brexit—Britain’s exit from the EU. Working class people in many Labour seats voted Leave as part of a revolt against the establishment.
But he is facing rebellions by both right and left wing Labour MPs who want to block Brexit.
Corbyn will be under huge pressure to resign if Labour loses either of the two by-elections it faces in Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland on 23 February.
Now rumours are flying that some MPs could be moving to replace Corbyn—including Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long-Bailey from Labour’s “soft left”.
Meanwhile the Labour right is said to be preparing a challenge from Labour’s shadow “Brexit minister” Keir Starmer.
The EU referendum split the Tory party down the middle, but these manoeuvres have turned what should have been their crisis into one for Labour.
The Labour right are themselves divided on whether to block Brexit (see below). But they are all desperate to keep Britain in the European single market, which restricts workers’ rights and prevents nationalisation of industries such as rail.
They are openly pushing to end EU freedom of movement, with more restrictive immigration controls.
Yet many of Labour’s members and supporters want to stay in the EU because they associate leaving with attacks on migrants and workers’ rights.
Some 7,000 Labour Party members are reported to have quit after Corbyn told Labour MPs to vote for the bill to begin Brexit in parliament last week. And a number of left and “soft left” Labour MPs were also predicted to defy Corbyn in a vote in parliament which was set to take place on Wednesday of this week.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said last Sunday that Labour would not “frustrate Brexit”.
Yet when asked about the consequences of rebelling, Corbyn described himself as “very lenient”.
This could leave his position open to challenges from MPs such as Lewis, who has said he will vote against the bill if Labour’s amendments are not accepted.
It comes after 47 Labour MPs—mostly from the right—rebelled against Corbyn at the bill’s second reading last Wednesday.
Corbyn has tried to hold his party together by appealing to both the right and left. This muddle lets the Tories—who should also be divided over Brexit—off the hook.
Corbyn could unite those with a vision for a socialist, anti-racist Brexit—whether they are for or against leaving the EU.
For Europe but not for Europeans—rebels want to attack migrants
The Labour right’s amendments to the Brexit bill show they are united in attacking EU migrants—whether they are for blocking the bill or supporting it.
Labour Party MPs have submitted several amendments to the bill, which were set to be debated on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
A number of them are moved by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow “Brexit minister” Keir Starmer and others.
They are mostly about protecting workers’ rights and the status of EU nationals already living in Britain. These are welcome.
But many more amendments submitted by right wing Labour MPs are bureaucratic attempts to stop Britain from leaving the EU’s most right wing institutions.
These MPs want to stay in the EU’s militaristic Common Foreign and Security Policy and Euratom, which promotes nuclear energy.
These include calls for a second referendum at the end of negotiations. They would make it difficult or impossible to leave bodies such as the single market or Euratom by making them “exceptions”.
They also demand regular reports on negotiations regarding each individual institution. And they demand that the government should get the consent of each of the devolved governments, as well as the government of Gibraltar, before leaving.
Many of those amendments are moved by MPs who rebelled against Corbyn to vote against the bill on Wednesday of last week.
But tellingly some of those same MPs have put their name to an amendment that demands the right to restrict EU free movement while keeping access to the single market.
They are united on this with Labour MPs who voted for the bill such as Stephen Kinnock, who has loudly called for more border controls.
This shows that the main dividing line in Labour is not between those who want to leave or remain in the EU. And it shows that many of those who voted against the bill are not on the side of anti-racists in Labour who want to defend migrants.
The real division in Labour is between those who want to defend and extend workers’ and migrants’ rights and those who want to attack them.