Boris Johnson should give Jeremy Corbyn a gong… for saving Brexit! DAN HODGES says even a half-decent Labour leader could have stopped Britain leaving the EU
These benches will not be duped!’ roared Jeremy Corbyn in yesterday’s historic parliamentary debate. ‘No!!!’ screeched his MPs in support. They were wrong. Labour’s benches have been duped. As have Labour members and Labour voters. Along with Jeremy Corbyn, who has ended up duping himself.
Ignore the duplicity of Oliver Letwin and his self-indulgent wrecking amendment. Yes, there will be more parliamentary sophistry. John Bercow and his Remain lieutenants will fight a final, desperate rearguard action. But the momentum is now in one direction.
Boris Johnson has broken the log-jam, and MPs of goodwill on all sides of the House are gravitating towards him. The end is in sight. Brexit is going to happen.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges supporters in Liverpool yesterday evening
When the books of this time are written, it will be interesting to see who they record as the architects of this turning point in the history of a nation. On Thursday, myself and a group of journalists had dinner in Brussels with one of them, Nigel Farage. He was a little down, regarding Boris’s deal as inadequate.
‘But this is your moment,’ I said to him. ‘None of this would have happened without you. Aren’t you tempted to just take the win?’
‘If I thought it really was Brexit I’d do that and be off,’ he said. ‘But I really don’t think this is what we’ve been fighting for.’
Another who will have their own dedicated chapter is Boris Johnson. The attempt to prorogue Parliament was a debacle. His October 31 deadline turned out to be a millstone round his own neck.
But he said he believed he could reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, when others said he could not. He was right and they were wrong. He pledged to negotiate in good faith and with an open mind, while his critics claimed he was deliberately attempting to sabotage Brexit and run a Dominic Cummings ‘People v Parliament’ strategy. He was telling the truth and they were not. He promised to ‘get Brexit done’. And despite the final frantic attempts of the Remainers, he will do.
But there is a third hero of Brexit who deserves to have their name sanctified by historians. That man is Jeremy Corbyn. There is no conceivable way Brexit could have been delivered without the contribution of the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Think of the political landscape that lay before him three weeks ago. The Supreme Court had just moved to block Boris’s final escape route. The Prime Minister was imprisoned by the Benn Act. His majority had been slashed to minus 42. He had no way of forcing an Election. The European Union was unwavering. There was open discussion in the bars and tea rooms of the Commons that the Johnson premiership would prove to be the shortest in British political history.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson smiles in the House of Commons in Westminster yesterday
The opposition parties and Tory rebels were united in their belief the time had come to remove him and insert a government of national unity. And yet Jeremy Corbyn somehow contrived to let Boris Johnson, and Brexit, break free.
If you speak to some Labour and Lib Dem MPs, they believe he has always been a corrupt jailer. Back in May, I reported how Corbyn had made approaches to a Labour MP who was minded to back Theresa May’s deal. ‘He asked him if he would start to unofficially whip our other Brexit-supporting MPs to back May,’ a Shadow Minister told me. ‘Jeremy wanted to move on from Brexit and thought the only way to do that was to get it over the line. But he couldn’t be seen to be helping dig a Tory Prime Minister out of a hole. So he said it all had to be done without it appearing he was behind it.’ The MP, unsurprisingly, politely declined.
Suspicious Remainers have also pointed to Corbyn’s reluctance to threaten to remove the whip from Labour rebels in the run-up to yesterday’s vote.
‘He wants it to pass,’ a Shadow Minister told me. ‘He’s always wanted it to pass.’
Corbyn’s allies reject this. ‘It’s ironic that the same people who have been attacking deselections as bullying are suddenly backing them in a glorious defence of Remain,’ says one.
It’s true that Corbyn has always been ideological suspicious of the European project. But his failure to derail Brexit is not actually the product of some grand and masterfully constructed conspiracy. It boils down to something much more simple. Corbyn is the most useless, incompetent, inadequate, unqualified, disingenuous, cowardly person to ever hold senior political office in the United Kingdom.
That has been evident ever since the 2016 referendum campaign, and his first major opportunity to stop Brexit in its tracks. Had he simply parked his political prejudices and joined with the opposition parties in campaigning robustly for Remain, Labour could have made the difference in a desperately tight contest. But the man who was prepared to share platforms with Hamas, Sinn Fein and the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen refused to share a platform with David Cameron and Tim Farron.
Having effectively lost that referendum campaign in absentia, Corbyn was then given another chance. Theresa May’s catastrophic 2017 Election campaign saw her fall short of the majority that she needed to force Brexit through a divided Commons.
The ‘Absolute Boy’, with the cheers of the Glastonbury faithful ringing in his ears, was presented with not one but two opportunities.
He could use his position to force May into embracing a Labour Brexit, one that genuinely honoured the commitment to his party’s working-class voters to respect the referendum result. Or he could take a clear, unambiguous stand against Brexit, seize the moment and drive hard for a second referendum. He chose to do neither. Given the opportunity of making a clear pitch for the 52 per cent of the electorate who voted to Leave, or the 48 per cent who voted to Remain, he took the strategically masterful decision to turn his back on each and every one of them.
Ed Milband destroyed his political career by adopting the infamous 35 per cent strategy, seeking that portion of the vote.
Jeremy Corbyn opted to embrace the 0 per cent strategy.
But it is not just the major strategic decisions Corbyn has got wrong. It is the major decisions. It is the minor decisions. It’s every decision he has taken on the issue since he first stood at the Dispatch Box and uttered the word ‘Brexit’.
In the early stages of his leadership, his tactic was to avoid mentioning the word at all, in the hope the everything would magically go away.
And for a while he was supported in that strategy by the high command of the Vote Leave campaign, who much in the way a cornerman props up a sagging boxer, tried to convince their Remain constituency that Corbyn was their champion. But over the past few weeks even they have realised he was punch-drunk beyond repair.
The recent sacking of Corbyn’s most senior aide, Karie Murphy, was widely reported as a coup by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. But in truth it was a coup led by the Remainer camp, who had suddenly woken up to the fact that Corbyn was a busted flush.
But their awakening came too late. Boris Johnson’s dramatic diplomatic triumph with Leo Varadkar opened the door to last Thursday’s deal, and finally pulled the rug from under the Remain alliance.
In response, some Corbynite Remainers have fallen back on their favoured approach – intimidation. ‘The attacks have been pretty personal,’ says one rebel Labour MP. ‘It’s been along the lines of, “You’re not one of us now.” ’
But their political thuggery is having limited effect. Partly that is because, in the wake of the anti-Semitic hounding out of Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman, a number of them have simply had enough. ‘They can threaten to deselect me,’ one tells me. ‘I couldn’t care less now.’
But it’s also because they and their colleagues realise that Jeremy Corbyn’s heart is no longer in the fight.
‘He wants to get it over with now,’ one Shadow Minister explains.
This is a reference to what Labour MP are describing as the Death By Election Strategy: Corbyn suspects he and his party will be annihilated in the upcoming poll, but he sees that as the cleanest way of bringing his leadership to an end.
Remainers put their faith in Jeremy Corbyn. In 2017, a large number of traditional Labour voters also placed their faith in him. But this morning he stands accused of betraying them all.
Brexit is going to happen. But it is going to happen in a way that leaves those who backed it feeling angry, frustrated and abandoned by a Labour Party that they used to call their own.
In his recent conference speech, Boris Johnson joked about firing Jeremy Corbyn into space.
But as the Prime Minister stands on the brink of victory, he should actually be considering handing Corbyn a knighthood. Brexit would not have happened without him.
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