So Labour didn’t change #Brexit? Here’s a concession you might not know of

So, so predictable that today the media, political opposition parties who were never in a position to achieve and change and some Labour MPs and members are making today (yet another) ‘blame Corbyn for everything’ day. The news broadcasters and print media are doing their usual, unprincipled thing, while Nicola Sturgeon, in particular, disgraced herself with some opportunistic, reality-denying nonsense:


The Article 50 bill – which is really not news if you think about it – made it through Parliament. It was always going to and nothing – whether you like it or not – was going to change that, or even disturb its passage. The Parliamentary mathematics made sure of that.

Some people, of course, never let the facts get in the way of a good smear – especially when it’s an opportunity to deflect attention that Theresa May got her backside handed to her in PMQs yesterday, after Corbyn completely outmanoeuvred her on the Surry Council ‘sweetheart deal’.

So today – for the 4th day in the last 9, even though the media know the Brexit bill has always been out of Labour’s and Corbyn’s hands – Labour rebels and Corbyn’s decision to whip the vote are the front-page news of the day.

With the spin that no changes were achieved to the bill – as per Ms Sturgeon’s shameful tweet above.

It’s true that the text of the bill was unchanged. It was always likely to be and Theresa May was always going to be keen to retain that propaganda victory. Nothing Labour could do about that, realistically, but some people can’t stop themselves crying over spilt milk.

But it’s not true that no concessions were won.

Regardless of the text of the bill, Corbyn’s clever tactics actually achieved two major concessions, while also minimising damage to Labour’s standing with the huge numbers of ‘leave’ voters in its non-London strongholds.

That’s quite a feat.

Chances are, you’ve only heard about one of them – and that’s by design. The media know how to spin a story for desired effect. So here are both, starting with the most obvious:

Concession 1: a vote on the final deal

Corbyn’s clever manoeuvre of letting Chris Leslie’s individual amendment lead allowed Tory rebels to get behind it in a way that they would have hesitated to if it was a formal Labour amendment.

This meant that the government, worried that it might face a significant rebellion, offered a sweetener – a Parliamentary debate and vote on the deal it agrees with the EU – before it’s finalised with the EU.

The naysayers are, of course, focusing on the fact that it’s been described as a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, with ‘leave it’ meaning a disadvantageous default to WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms that include tariffs etc – but in fact that puts the onus on the government to make sure its deal contains enough fundamental protections that it will pass in that all-or-nothing, ‘one shot’ vote. Imagine being the government that is so incompetent it brought back a deal so bad that MPs opted for ‘no deal’ instead.

Nobody would claim this is ideal, but given the Parliamentary maths and the fact that the debate is, unavoidably, going to be toward the end of the two-year ‘Article 50’ notice period, there’s nothing realistic and better to expect.

Concession 2: protection for EU citizens

This is the one that nobody is talking about – but it’s major. One of Theresa May’s first actions after she became leader was to make dark, threatening noises about effectively holding the fate of EU citizens as hostage to the negotiations. Treating people as bargaining chips is entirely in line with the Tory psyche, but no less hideous for that.

And, again as a result of Corbyn’s intelligent positioning, the government has put in writing a commitment to protecting the rights and status of EU citizens in this country, in a letter that Home Secretary Amber Rudd circulated to MPs. Here it is in full:


Achieving this – getting May to give away what she clearly considered one of her stronger (but as any reasonable person would say, least scrupulous) bargaining chips is a major coup. Which is probably why the media/opposition/Labour right are quiet about it.

Clearly, the Labour MPs who still voted against the bill last night would not agree that the concessions were enough for them to vote for it – but that’s ok, and it must be said that with the exception of the four front-benchers, those resigning are largely the ‘usual suspects’ who’ve done their best to undermine Corbyn since he became leader, so they hardly represent actual news.

But any media, any right-wing Labour MPs and any from other parties who try to tell you that Corbyn’s approach achieved no concessions – and yes, that includes you Nicola Sturgeon – are lying to you.

It’s simply not true. And while nobody would claim Corbyn succeeded in making a silk purse out of the flea-bitten sow’s ear he was handed, he certainly managed to make a better leather one than anyone had a right to expect given what he had to work with.

And, as Corbyn rightly said, now’s the time the real fight starts – not the barely-relevant, unwinnable Article 50 sideshow the media built up into something it never really was.

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  1. Many still fail to understand how Corbyn works and fail to appreciate how smart he is which comes from 30+ years in parliament

  2. Thank you. It just goes to show that nobody should ever underestimate Mr Corbyn.

    1. Sorry, but Corbyn has achieved nothing here, other than to appear weak and lacking in principles. You may be right to say he had little choice, but a vague assurance from a government minister means absolutely nothing, and a Hobson’s choice of take it or leave it after the fact is no choice at a.

  3. The Skwawkbox’s series of articles on the Article 50 Bill have been outstanding, even by its own very high standards. For anyone who doesn’t suffer from voluntary politcal stupidity, Corbyn has managed a very difficult situation effectively and has shown a much surer grasp of realpolitik (the stuff we’ve been assured he’s no good at by so many keyboard warriors with zero parliamentary experience) than the likes of Ms Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas et al.

    Shouting down Twitter at or about Corbyn is easy: what’s a little bit harder is grasping that Brexit is not going to happen in a single moment (the passage of the European Withdrawal Act) but is a complex and protracted process. Brexit will take time, and this is the crucial factor because a long-running, mulit-strand negotiation and legislative process will become massively attritional, with the Government facing any number of serious, rebellion inducing difficulties. The Government’s position – as is that of Teresa May – is going to become weaker and more compromised over time.

    It’s worth remembering that Teresa didn’t want Parliamentary oversight of and decision making about the withdrawal process but lost that one in court. Why? Because the Tories are split on Brexit and it’s going to be hard to hold them together, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a challenge to Teresa’s “leadership” emerging over the next year. Indeeed, George Osbourne, who was promised a go at being Prime Minister and seems to be getting a bit bored with doing after dinner speeches, already seems to be positioning himself in a way anybody except our professional media commentators could spot at five hundred paces on a moonless night.

    As leonc 1963 said above, Corbyn has a massive amount of parliamentary experience and it’s pretty clear that his found the best possible position on which to oppose a Tory neo-liberal wet-dream Brexit. In fact, these days I tend to work on the principle that the louder the anti-Corbyn media noise, the more likely it is that he’s got it right again – and they know it.

    1. This is true the formation of the EU took years just to come to fruition and that is without the masses of EU legislation that has been brought in since we joined so to think we can just leave at the drop of a hat is poppycock it could take just as long to leave after all the negotiations which all member states have to agree with indeed it is no mean feat and will take years with my estimate and an estimate is all it is as we have no crystal balls here is 10 years

  4. I also believe the Tories would have come out far better by rather than pushing to brexit to negotiate and reform the EU which I believe would have sat better with other member states indeed they could have been the kings of EU Reform and gained much praise by member states

  5. A letter from the home office offers no legal rights to EU citizens. The courts judge using laws passed by Parliament, not letters from the home office. The final vote does not help Labour. In fact it puts them in a no-win situation: they reject the deal, WTO tariffs are imposed, and the Tories blame Labour; they accept the deal, the Tories claim Labour supported them even if things go tits up.

    You are obviously smart, but why do you insist on defending Corbyn over this? Is Corbyn more important than the Labour party to you? Would you rather sink the ship with a captain you admire, than sail with a captain you begrudgingly respect?

    1. Those things are not in the law either way, Chris. Those fights are still to come. No rights have been written into or out of the agreement yet – and the letter means the govt faces a major rebellion if they don’t honour their promises. This was just the article 50 bill – it was never realistically going to contain *in its wording* specific commitments on legal detail. Not in the current balance of parliamentary power.

      You seem to forget the thing I keep pointing out that people keep forgetting – that *nothing* was going to stop this bill going through. I’d rather stick with the ‘captain’ I believe is best positioned to retrieve the best out of a shitty situation – and who has the integrity to do it. That’s lacking in anyone I suspect you might consider a better candidate. Though of course I might be wrong about who you’d consider better, just judging by the content of your comment.

      1. Those rights were inshrined into law, though. Protecting the rights of EU citizens is part of our laws due to membership of the European Union. Article 50 ends that membership, and thereby that protection. We could have guaranteed those rights, though, in this law, had Corbyn managed to convice everyone in opposition and rebel Tories. He failed to do that.

      2. There was never the slightest chance of building that level of detail into a bill of what, 120 words or thereabouts, whose only purpose was to start the process – especially with a solid Tory majority.

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