James Forsyth

Labour is threatening its electoral coalition by voting against the EU withdrawal bill

Labour is threatening its electoral coalition by voting against the EU withdrawal bill
Text settings

Up to now, Labour have managed to have their cake and eat it on Brexit. At the election, Labour MPs in Brexit-backing seats could say their party didn’t oppose leaving the EU and had voted for Article 50. At the same time, Labour hoovered up votes elsewhere in the country from those angry at Brexit. Remarkably, 39 percent of Financial Times readers voted for the party despite Jeremy Corbyn’s hostility to high earners and the City.

But, as I say in The Sun this morning, Labour are threatening this coalition by voting against the EU withdrawal bill. Already, Tory MPs are excited at the prospect of being able to attack Labour for trying to block Brexit.

So, why are Labour taking this risk? One reason is that it is good chance to cause trouble for the government. With several Tory MPs unhappy about parts of the bill, Labour have a good chance of—at the least--defeating the government on some amendments. Another is that many on the Labour side feel that this bill gives the Tory government far too much power. But, perhaps, the most important reason is that they don’t want a new pro-European, pro-single market party to be formed.

With the Tories in turmoil, perhaps the biggest threat to Corbyn’s chances of making it to Number 10 is the creation of a new centre party. It would disproportionately take votes from Labour. While it probably wouldn’t win many, if any, seats it could cost Labour in lots of places.

This new party would have no trouble raising money; some deep pocketed individuals have privately made clear that they’d be prepared to support it. But no politician has been prepared to make the leap. Corbyn and his team want to deny pro-single markets Labour MPs an excuse to jump. This goes some way to explaining the party’s softening position on Brexit.