The most important thing is getting Brexit right – and Britain’s best hope is to have Corbyn in Downing Street tomorrow

Peter Apps

When this election campaign started, I thought that wherever you stood ideologically, it was hard not to see Theresa May as the continuity candidate and voting for Jeremy Corbyn as a bit of a punt.

Events since, however, have changed my mind. Ironically, the prime minister is right when she says the most important thing is getting Brexit right, and which negotiating team you want to be in the room.

After the missteps of the Tory campaign, letting the same team handle Brexit no longer feels sensible or sane. On that measure — which may indeed be the most important — Corbyn and the Labour Party team, particularly Keir Starmer, do feel the safest option.

If you want visible proof of that, it comes in the form of the towering May statue one of her supporters has erected on the White Cliffs of Dover, wrapped in the Union Jack and flicking a V sign towards the continent. It sums up both the campaign and the message our European partners would receive from a Conservative victory.

With the clock already ticking down to our departure from the EU, that risks being diplomatically disastrous.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks with a Corbyn victory and what could be a coalition government. But the simple truth is increased borrowing and raising tax levels for the richest and big businesses will have much less effect on the economy than a devastatingly chaotic Brexit.

Even before the election, it was clear that David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson were not really the negotiators you wanted to get a good deal out of the European Union. A strong, centrist prime minister could have counterbalanced that, but that is clearly not the option on the table.

Letting the team that built the Tory manifesto run Brexit makes precious little sense, wherever you are coming from. The sheer number of u-turns from May and her colleagues will also have a distinctly negative effect on Britain’s negotiating position. Those on the other side of the table may well assume she will buckle — and so the starting point will almost certainly be much more hawkish than otherwise necessary.

Corbyn is not necessarily the ideal candidate to lead Britain through this process, but he is unquestionably the best on the ballot paper. Indeed, he has shown a commendable mixture of grit in sticking to his guns and flexibility in taking on the views of others, for example in including Trident replacement in the manifesto.

On issues where he knows he is completely out of tune with British opinion – as on the abolition of the monarchy – he simply chooses not to inflict his views on the rest of us.

Britain does actually have a fair idea what it wants to achieve with Brexit, a watering down of free movement, a push back on regulations and access to as much of the single market on this good terms as possible. More than that, it also wants to remain closely involved in Europe on defence and other topics.

My instinct is that there is not a genuine interest in the country in a psychotically-hard Brexit. But that is what May and the Conservative party now looks likely to deliver.

If the electorate do now decide to turn against the prime minister, as seems increasingly likely, the inevitable result will be a hung parliament and perhaps a coalition. The make-up of that will depend on the democratic will of the British people — the more seats the Liberal Democrats or SNP get, the more the mandate to water down Brexit. Neither party, however, looks to be going as well as it had initially hoped.

Diplomatically speaking, in many respects the greatest advantage of a Corbyn victory would be the chance to win back some goodwill in Europe. At the moment, leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron perceive a May-led Britain as viewing them with contempt – an adjunct to Trump’s worldview and everything that comes with it.

May might argue that it’s a good thing that she is in the American president’s good books. But the simple truth is that the closer we get to Trump now, the harder it will be to deal with other European states now and possibly even the US in the long run. It gives us little, and it may ultimately cost us a lot.

On security, Corbyn has dramatically upped his game, as has the Labour Party. On policing and national defence, it genuinely now has a stronger offer than the Tories. The real divide, however, is on just how toxic the two sides will prove in Brexit negotiations.

Diane Abbott might be few people’s choice as home secretary but her difficulties pale in comparison with the prospect of the incompetent Boris Johnson and his ilk setting the mood music for Brexit.

The PM is right. This is not the time to take a risk on national security or the country’s economic future. By her own argument, it’s time for her to go. Britain’s best hope for moving forward is to have Corbyn in Downing Street by the end of tomorrow.

Peter Apps is a Reuters global affairs columnist, a British Army reservist and a member of the Labour Party.

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