Labour’s Brexit muddle puts them on thin ice
Someone's enjoying Twitter’s new 280 character limit: “What an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldn’t run a p**s up in a brewery bunch of jokers there are running the government at the most critical time in a generation for the country.”
And breathe. This was from Ed Miliband, yesterday – reacting to the news that the DUP prevented Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker from announcing a deal on the thorny issue of the Irish border. More accurately, the former Labour leader was venting at the apparent naivety (or arrogance) of Downing Street thinking it could handle this issue without first getting the say-so from Arlene Foster and her MPs.
The DUP leader claimed last night that her party has been asking the government for details of any proposal for the past five weeks. If true, it’s clear that Downing Street has made a serious error of judgement. But let’s return to Miliband’s party for a moment, since they so enjoyed their day in the sun yesterday.
Jeremy Corbyn rarely talks about Brexit, studiously avoiding the topic at Prime Minister’s Questions on the grounds that his party continues to have an unsettled view on how Brexit should be delivered.
It is unlikely that he will be able to avoid the topic today, which will allow May to highlight the opposition’s own Brexit difficulties. As of yesterday, Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, wants the government to keep Single Market membership on the table, but he wants to end freedom of movement.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell wants to leave the Single Market while deputy leader Tom Watson wants to stay in it. Diane Abbott wants to keep freedom of movement but shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner thinks that staying the customs union would be a disaster, contrary to the views of many of his backbench colleagues. It is, put simply, a messy whiteboard of policies and priorities.
The government may be in a mess of its own making, but its desired destination is at least clear. This is more than can be said for the opposition. For as long as Labour’s position is so muddled, they’ll be on thin ice when trying to hold the government to account.