Jeremy Corbyn's decision (26 January 2017) to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote for Theresa May's Brexit Article 50 bill is wrong and destructive.
The 23 June referendum did not create any mandate or moral obligation to endorse or facilitate Theresa May's Tory, "hard-Brexit", anti-immigrant version of quitting the European Union.
May has made it clear that the Tories will put limiting freedom of movement for workers first; will quit the single market; and also will largely quit the EU customs union (broader than the single market: it also includes Turkey, for example). Giving May the go-ahead is helping the Tories to pursue that agenda.
Back on 5 November Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror that Labour would vote in Parliament against triggering "Article 50" unless the Tory government agreed to Labour’s "Brexit bottom line".
Corbyn stated the "bottom line" as continued UK membership of the "single market", within which customs duties and checks are abolished and trade regulations are uniform.
Better if he had said that the bottom line is freedom of movement in Europe — the freedom of EU-origin workers in Britain to stay here securely, for their friends and compatriots to join them, and for British people to work, live, or study in other EU countries with almost citizens’ rights, including such entitlements as public health care.
Since all sides more or less concede that Britain cannot stay in the "single market" without also continuing freedom of movement, it came to much the same thing.
Then Labour’s right-wing deputy leader Tom Watson intervened to say that Labour would put "single-market" amendments, but would vote for "Article 50" regardless.
Corbyn went quiet and evidently deferred to Watson and to the bulk of the Labour right. They argue that Labour must placate anti-immigrant sentiment by backing May on Article 50. They are ready to support May whatever version of Brexit she pushes.
The argument for voting for Article 50 in order to placate anti-immigrant-minded Labour voters is shameful and shoddy. Labour politics should be about establishing socialist and democratic principles and then convincing and mobilising people, not about triangulating.
In any case, about 70% of Labour's electorate voted Remain: support for May will push them away from Labour. Voters who are strongly anti-EU and strongly anti-immigrant will not be won over by the Labour support for Article 50. The way to stop such voters going to Ukip or such is not to signal nervously that Labour is sort-of, partly, equivocally, queasily, in line with the Ukip-type ideas which they hold or play with, but to convince them on this and other issues with an internationalist and socialist message.
Some Labour right-wingers, especially in constituencies with strong Remain votes, have come out against Article 50. Most of the Labour right wing is with Watson. In any case, substantively there is nothing left-wing about supporting the Tories on Article 50.
Yet some on the left have argued in favour of Labour backing Article 50. Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian (19 January): "Jeremy Corbyn has no choice but to back article 50". Paul Mason tweeted (also 19 January) that Labour should back Article 50: "Corbyn here is ahead of many metropolitan liberals/ left still in denial and hoping Brexit will not happen. Hard place to be but right".
It is a reasonable suspicion that backroom people such as Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray who (like Tom Watson) have a Stalinist background will have pushed in the same direction.
Constituency Labour Parties, unions, and Momentum groups should protest.