When Donald Tusk conceded yesterday that Jeremy Corbyn’s “pro-Brexit stance” meant “there is no political force and no effective leadership for Remain”, this only confirmed what many have been saying since the Cooper amendment failed. The wind has been taken out of the People’s Vote campaign’s sails. Without the Labour leader whipping in favour of a fresh referendum (and even with it), there simply aren’t the numbers in the Commons to get the ball rolling.
Now Corbyn has issued the Prime Minister with five demands for Brexit and declared that Labour will back her divorce deal if they are met. Theresa May could soften the ‘political declaration’ document, which sets out the UK’s future relationship with the EU, sweeten the deal by enshrining those changes in law, and gain not just Labour rebels but official Labour backing for her Brexit. Remain-supporting Labour activists and MPs are furious, with some threatening to quit the party.
But People’s Vote campaigners are undeterred. In fact, some think Corbyn’s move has actually been helpful: it has granted further clarity to Labour’s plan, which means opposition frontbenchers will have to answer difficult questions on the details of the proposals. It also issues an even clearer ultimatum. Either Theresa May pivots towards customs union, etc, or Labour moves on to the other “options on the table” according to that famous conference composite motion. And the only options ever on that table were Labour’s alternative deal and a ‘people’s vote’.
Keir Starmer and his team seem to agree with this analysis, as the Shadow Brexit Secretary – for whom a fresh public vote is thought to be much more agreeable, compared to Corbyn’s stance – has tweeted: “This letter sets out in robust terms that the Prime Minister must abandon her Brexit red lines. It does not take the option of a public vote off the table.”
People’s Vote campaigners believe that the fundamental calculation has not changed. They say the deal won’t go through because May cannot reopen the withdrawal agreement and there aren’t enough Labour rebels to compensate for the size of that Tory rebellion. No deal won’t happen because the Prime Minister would not want cabinet ministers to resign and MPs to quit her party, not to mention she’d prefer to avoid ‘no deal’ becoming her legacy. Labour’s plan, according to them, is unworkable and, again, May would destroy the Conservatives by adopting it. Both the Tories and Labour are “chasing unicorns”, PV-ers argue, and that will only become clearer over the next few weeks. Their message: don’t write us off yet.