Jeremy Corbyn has behaved like a spiv trying to welch on a bet, says Theresa May’s ex-communications boss SIR ROBBIE GIBB
Of all the descriptions often attributed to Jeremy Corbyn, being a mind-reader is not one. And yet before the Prime Minister’s new Brexit deal was published yesterday, the Labour leader definitively declared that he couldn’t support it.
There are two possible explanations for this.
Either Corbyn is a sage who managed to deduce the contents of the unpublished 64-page document.
Or, he jumped in without waiting to read the first page.
Having seen first-hand the shameless speed with which Corbyn can denounce a deal, forgive me if I lean towards the second possibility.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to attend a pre-council meeting of Party of European Socialists at Albert Hall in Brussels on Thursday
Over the past three years, there has been little about Corbyn’s handling of Brexit to suggest he has any inclination to prioritise the Brexit referendum result over the demands of Labour’s own internal party politics. So much for the man who’s party went into the last general election with a manifesto which clearly stated: ‘Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.’
Faced with a growing Remainer insurgency along his front bench, Corbyn has also ditched his own Eurosceptic beliefs.
Whether, therefore, Corbyn has tried to scupper every attempt to deliver Brexit out of political cowardice or shameless cynicism scarcely matters.
And while Boris Johnson has staked everything – not least his own reputation and premiership – on making good on that promise, the Labour leader has behaved like a slopey-shouldered spiv trying to welch on a bet. As his actions demonstrated yesterday, Corbyn isn’t one to spend time reading important documents.
But should he ever start, he could do no worse than begin at page 24 of Labour’s own 2017 manifesto.
Time and again, Corbyn has shown how those key five words – ‘Labour accepts the referendum result’ – aren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
Under his leadership, Labour MPs opted to trigger Article 50 and set the two-year clock running on Brexit negotiations, but subsequently voted on 34 separate occasions in the Commons to block Brexit legislation.
Even when we were trying to broker a deal with Labour to break the Parliamentary deadlock, I remember how their delegation failed to take the matter at hand seriously. I will never forget one particularly farcical moment in April when, during crunch talks with Labour to get Theresa’s May’s deal through, the party’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, condemned a document we had just given him – even though it had been copied and pasted from his own proposals!
At another point, Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell (pictured alongside Sajid Javid), suddenly raised the issue of a Second Referendum
At another point, Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell, suddenly raised the issue of a Second Referendum.
I was surprised. At the time, McDonnell had no great love for the Remainer rump of his party.
‘I said I’d raise it,’ he explained matter-of-factly, ‘and I’ve raised it.’ It was a bizarre outburst – though one that now explains why Corbyn’s self-serving game-playing over Brexit is coming home to roost.
Held captive by Labour’s hardcore Remainer membership, he has been backed into a cul-de-sac of support for a second referendum.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has never deviated from the course he set – to take Britain out of Europe on October 31, ‘do or die’.
He has gambled everything on this promise and it seems to have paid off.
Indeed, it means that, tomorrow, there is a clear choice for MPs: back this deal or leave without a deal in less than two weeks’ time.
There are, of course, a handful of honourable former Labour MPs, such as John Mann and Iain Austin, who will do their duty and honour the referendum result.
There are also decent, moderate Labour MPs, such as Caroline Flint, who voted Remain but have since stated resolutely that Brexit must be delivered.
Tomorrow, other Labour MPs would do well to follow their lead.
Now is the time for our politicians to break free from this appalling Parliamentary paralysis, to live up to their promises to voters and get Brexit done.
If Jeremy Corbyn continues to put the brakes on Brexit, it could plunge Britain into an almighty crash.
Sir Robbie Gibb was Theresa May’s director of communications