12.00 We’re still waiting for the end of Cabinet, but in the mean time there’s been some little coverage of Labour’s reaction. Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term Eurosceptic who backed down on the issue to appease his party, confirmed that Labour would campaign for In in the manner of a hostage video. However he took time to dismiss the Prime Ministers precious deal as “irrelevant to problems most Britons face”, lending credence to suggestions he may be trying to undermine the ‘Remain’ cause.
He has also announced that Labour MPs can run for both sides, and Frank Field has declared on his website that Cameron’s failure to secure meaningful border control means that he will be campaigning for Brexit. He writes:
“…the Government so lacked ability that it couldn’t even achieve the minimal reform programme it cobbled together. Holding the referendum in June was clearly more important than winning major reforms. The Government has failed to secure the key renegotiation requirement, namely, that we should regain control of our borders. I shall therefore be campaigning to leave the EU.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed intervention would represent his first of the EU referendum debate. From the perspective of the pro-EU camp, it would be fairly disastrous. That’s because the euro referendum isn’t really a euro referendum at all. It’s a tug-of-war between an In camp seeking to turn it into a referendum on jobs, and an Out camp hoping to turn it into a referendum on immigration. Whoever is successful will win.
Which is why making the pitch that Britain should stay In, while simultaneously making the pitch Britain should stay in so unrestricted benefits can be paid by the British taxpayer to hundreds of thousands of European migrants, is most definitely not the “Yes” campaign’s chosen terrain. Slapton Sands, in the teeth of a force 10 gale, would be better terrain.
So why is Jeremy Corbyn doing it? After all, he’s a supporter of “Yes”, isn’t he? Well, yes and no. Literally.
Corbyn is a Hokey Cokey European. He claims to be “In”, but really he’s “Out”. So over the next few months we’re going to see him shaking it all about.
That will lead to him making quite a few speeches that are helpful in theory, but damaging in practice. We will see a series of barbed comments about the conduct of the Yes campaign – how it’s business dominated, Tory dominated, faceless-EU-bureaucrat-screw-the-workers-dominated. Jeremy Corbyn will become the Yes campaign’s “critical friend” – with the emphasis on the former.
To understand why, you have to understand several things. One is that in Britain in 2016, the leader of the Labour Party is more instinctively Eurosceptic than the leader of the Conservative Party. Corbyn’s is a strange form of subliminal, pseudo-Marxist Euroscepticism. The EU hasn’t been a major issue for the British hard-Left for almost 40 years. But on those occasions Corbyn’s mind does turn to Europe, he spies a predominantly free-market construct, overseen in the main by free-market supporting apparatchiks, and much beloved by the New Labourites. So he recoils. David Cameron, in contrast, sees the same things, and instinctively engages.
It’s also important to understand Jeremy Corbyn’s broader world view. As one Labour MP said to me a few weeks ago “Jeremy’s office is staffed by a lot of people who thought the wrong side lost the Cold War”. Another characterised his new leader’s foreign policy as “the Moscow First strategy”.