On Wednesday 8 February, just after Solidarity has gone to press, Parliament will vote on the third reading of the Tories’ Brexit bill.
On 7 February the Tories said that, yes, Parliament can vote on whatever deal they come up — but only between that and what no MP will support, quitting the EU without a deal, i.e. having no closer arrangement with Europe than with Afghanistan or Zimbabwe.
Citing the 23 June referendum as their authority, the Tories now claim the right to shape Brexit their way, above and outside all democratic control.
Yet Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership of the Labour Party still plan a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote with May, on 8 February as on the second reading on 1 February.
On 1 February, three Shadow Cabinet members, not right-wingers, resigned and voted against May. Ten junior shadow ministers, three whips, and 34 other Labour MPs also voted against. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott missed the vote, citing a migraine. Labour right-wingers are calling for Abbott to be sacked.
Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis, usually an ally of Corbyn’s, said on 7 February: “I am prepared to break the whip and I am prepared to walk from the Shadow Cabinet”.
In the Scottish Parliament on 7 February, Labour is set to vote against Article 50.
Labour has put amendments:
• to stay in the “single market” (which in fact means also keeping freedom of movement; but regrettably Corbyn has retreated from his explicit defences of freedom of movement)
• to protect in British law all workers’ rights which originate from the EU
• to guarantee legal rights for EU nationals now in the UK
• to increase scrutiny of the negotiations.
All the big amendments will probably fail.
Manuel Cortes, secretary of the TSSA union and a supporter of Corbyn, said on 6 February: “If Labour’s amendments fail, then the facts change and our Labour Party must whip our MPs into voting against an unamended Tory Brexit. If they don’t, then our MPs must do the right thing and vote against it anyway”.
Cortes is right. The damage to Corbyn’s leadership here is largely self-inflicted.
Despite the use of this row against Corbyn by a sub-section of the Labour right, opposition to the Tories’ Article 50 and support for freedom of movement is a left-wing issue, not a right-wing one.
And opposition to the Tories claiming dictatorial powers over Brexit is, too.