Article 50 vote blows up in Labour’s face


Article 50 vote blows up in Labour’s face

Far from harming the Government, the Article 50 vote in the Commons has helped unite the Conservative Party, while exacerbating rifts within Labour, says Rory Broomfield.

It was the Left’s reckoning that a Parliamentary vote on Article 50 would be damaging for the Government. Ironically, it appears the Commons vote has helped galvanise the Conservative Party, while exacerbating cavernous rifts within Labour.

In recent weeks, some may have felt a degree of sympathy for politicians on the Left. First, remainers were left reeling from the Supreme Court judgement and, secondly, pro-remain MPs failed in their attempts to derail the Government’s Article 50 Bill in the Commons.

Indeed, the scene from the House of Commons this week, where the Bill passed with 494 votes in favour to 122 against at third reading, was that of relief from the Government benches coupled with a sense of a job well done as none of the key amendments the Left wanted were approved.

The Bill now leaves the Commons and moves onto the Lords free from any wrecking amendments and a sense that, with the clear majority of MPs behind it, peers would delay it at their peril.

For this, much credit must go to Steve Baker MP for initiating the “Keep Notification Simple” initiative through social media. Both The Freedom Association and Better Off Out campaign were more than willing to support this plan and many of our members wrote to their respective MPs accordingly. Nonetheless, the real story of the week is of the infighting, indecision and splits that have come from the Left because of the vote.

For clarity, ‘the Left’ is made up of the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour and, yes, some Conservatives. Basically, those that wanted to wreck the Government’s chances of carrying out a “Clean Brexit” to hold onto their desire to keep elements of the EU, incompatible with being free from it.

However, the Left were split. Some MPs wanted to change how the Government consulted with Gibraltar; some wanted to prevent the Government from competing freely with the EU on taxation. Some MPs on the Left, such as Tim Farron, even went as far as to demand a second EU referendum – with the option of going back into the EU. They all failed in their attempts because, despite having support across the parties, they weren’t organised and, in many cases, they were fighting their own personal battles in their respective parties. In short: they were a mess.

But is this the end of the Left?

The answer: not yet, but it may be the end of Corbyn as leader. The Labour Party were by far the most split with 52 Labour MPs defying the whip to oppose invoking Article 50. This, as calculated by Jonathan Isaby of Brexit Central, included 11 frontbenchers and, amazingly, three Labour Party whips. With dissent in the ranks of the Labour Party heightened to mean that five (now) ex-frontbenchers quit the Shadow Cabinet to oppose Corbyn’s will, there seems to be no real meeting of eyes between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Shadow Front Bench.

This may lead to revolts and descent, especially if the Labour Party is unable to rally behind either a leader or a cause.

However, both the Government and those that value freedom should not count their chickens before they hatch. Although the Government won the day in the Commons, there is still the House of Lords to overcome. The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, was right in saying he expected the House of Lords to do its job and to do its patriotic duty and give the Government the right to go on and negotiate the best deal possible with the European Union. But despite the clear message given from the British people and the elected chamber of Parliament, there is no guarantee that the unelected chamber will listen.

The Government must also not give the Left a chance to unite.

The Left is disorientated and disorganised, but politics is a funny game. They could come together over a particular cause. My concern, given the recent anti-Trump protests is a resurrection of the protests that greeted TTIP. That is not the only issue, however. There are a host that I believe the Left will try and mobilise against, given the chance.

But for now, they are a mess. Brexit has united (most) of the Conservative Party and divided the Left. The next problem to address is who will provide the credible democratic opposition?

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  • Rory Broomfield
    Rory Broomfield
    Rory Broomfield is Director of The Freedom Association and the Better Off Out campaign. He is an authority on the EU and has written a number of books including his latest, co-authored with Iain Murray, Cutting the Gordian Knot: A Roadmap for British Exit from the European Union. He has previously worked in the City of London and in Westminster for a number of Members of Parliament, including the current Prime Minister, Theresa May; the current Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady; and Sir Richard Shepherd.
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