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Labour MPs are set to defy leader Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit bill

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Corbyn is right to reject Tory plans and trigger Article 50—but Labour rebels weaken him, says Nick Clark
Issue 2539
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to supporters in Matlock over the summer
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to supporters in Matlock over the summer (Pic: Neil Terry)

Right wing Labour Party MPs are preparing a fresh assault on party leader Jeremy Corbyn with a plot to defy him over leaving the European Union (EU).

At least 18 Labour MPs have said they will vote against the bill to trigger Article 50 this Wednesday.

Two shadow ministers have resigned their positions to oppose the bill, which would begin the process of leaving the EU.

And Labour MP Heidi Alexander has put an amendment to the bill that would kill it altogether.

It comes after Corbyn demanded that his MPs vote for the bill. He said that he was imposing a “three line whip”—meaning there would be heavy pressure on them to vote for it.

The planned rebellion is part of another right wing attempt to undermine Corbyn and force concessions out of him.

It also shows the strength of the Labour right’s commitment to the EU.

The 18 Labour MPs say they are opposed to the Tories’ vision of Brexit. But many Labour MPs’ real concern is leaving the bosses’ single market, which is designed to help giant corporations make huge profits at workers’ expense.

Many Labour MPs who want to stay in the single market also want to ditch freedom of movement for EU migrant workers.

They think that attacking migrants can help them to win back support in constituencies such as Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland—where they fear losing out in the by-elections scheduled for 23 February.

Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer spoke at a meeting of Labour members in Islington, north London, last month.

He is said to have described Labour’s position as access to the single market “plus immigration limits”.

Former Islington mayor Phil Kelly said Starmer explained Labour’s support for Brexit “is a mere form of words to enable Labour candidates in seats where a majority voted Leave to claim that they favour immigration controls”.

Corbyn has to be defended against the right. But he has made too many concessions. He has also said he wants to keep access to the single market but that Labour is “not wedded” to freedom of movement.

He has rightly moved amendments to the Tories’ plans and said, “We repeat the will of the British people, but not the will of the Tory government to impose fewer rights at work and worse public services.”

He promised 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”.

But this is also partly about satisfying the Labour right, which wants to keep access to the single market.

Corbyn is right not to block Article 50 but his concessions to the right have left him weaker.

He has to fight for a genuine left alternative to the Tories’ Brexit—which must include defending freedom of movement and be fought for in the workplaces and on the streets.

Stoke election is not all about immigration

Racist Ukip leader Paul Nuttall is challenging Labour in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election on 23 February.

Nuttall has attacked Labour for supporting “open door immigration and crude multiculturalism”.

He has said, “Quite simply, Labour, especially the Labour of Corbyn and Abbott and Thornberry, has betrayed the English working class.

“We will replace Labour as a patriotic voice of working people.”

Stoke voted by a big margin to leave the European Union (EU) in last year’s referendum. Nuttall is campaigning on a promise of a “real Brexit” which includes attacking migrants.

But it would be wrong for Labour to make the mistake of seeing a vote for Brexit as simply a vote against immigration.

Mark McEvoy from Stoke told Socialist Worker his Leave vote “had nothing to do” with immigration

He said, “It’s more to do with European law and the way that businesses benefit.”

For many Leave voters the referendum was a chance to hit out against the establishment. Labour can connect with those people with a vision of a Brexit that attacks the bosses and the rich.

New U-turn is a nuclear error

Labour is also fighting a by-election in Copeland in Cumbria.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dropped his opposition to nuclear power in the run-up to the election.

Copeland is home to the Sellafield nuclear power plant.

Corbyn has long opposed nuclear power, but after visiting Copeland last month said he would back plans to develop nuclear power plants. But nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and dirty.

Socialists should oppose it.

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