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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Election threat rises as May sets Brexit vote for 15th

Jeremy Corbyn senses opportunity to take power before Brexit happens on March 29

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dedicated his party to a quest to win power before Britain’s break with Europe on March 29 AP
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dedicated his party to a quest to win power before Britain’s break with Europe on March 29 AP

Theresa May yesterday set January 15 as the date for Parliament to vote on Britain’s Brexit deal with Brussels, knowing the opposition Labour Party wants to trigger a general election.

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29. Despite a high-profile campaign for a second referendum, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has dedicated his party to a quest to take power before the break with Europe.

“We want a people’s vote, which is called a general election,” said Barry Gardiner, the Labour international trade spokesman. “It’s actually the quickest way to go back to the people.”

Skwawkbox, a pro-Corbyn blog, caused controversy when it suggested an election could be triggered for March 21. If elected, that would give Mr Corbyn a week to revoke Brexit.

Mr Corbyn would have to abstain on Mrs May’s Brexit deal and allow it to pass. Labour would gamble that the Democratic Unionist Party, which gives Mrs May a majority in the Commons but opposes the Brussels deal, would turn on its ally.

“This would be a high-stakes and stunningly audacious move by Corbyn and his team,” Skwawkbox said.

“But it probably represents the most realistic chance for the UK to remove the Tories and achieve a ‘Labour Brexit’ that would avoid the excesses the Tories are hoping for.”

The report was later denied but its publication underlined the depth of planning in Mr Corbyn’s inner circle.

He and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, along with the Unite public sector union leader Len McCluskey, refuse to go along with calls for a second referendum, despite its popularity among most Labour members.

Labour has many seats in the north of England, which voted heavily in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, and the move would allow Mrs May’s Conservatives to say the opposition did not respect the public will.

But there is power behind calls for the second vote, including within Momentum, the activist base that took Mr Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015. It is made up of tens of thousands of young, urban members who want stay to in Europe.

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At the party’s annual conference in Liverpool in September last year, Keir Starmer,

the shadow Brexit secretary and a supporter of remaining in Europe, said Labour’s position would now include the possibility of another referendum if all other options failed.

This led to division at the top of the party over the past few weeks as time runs out before the country crashes out of the EU without any deal in place, with all the economic disruption that this could cause.

Mr McDonnell, 67, a close friend and political ally of Mr Corbyn for four decades, indicated in November that the party would “inevitably” back a second referendum because the preferred option of a general election was unlikely to happen.

Mr McDonnell, 67, is politically astute but he is divisive within the party and across Westminster.

A former political officer for a key New Labour figure told The National that Mr McDonnell was “one of the few grown-ups in the room”.

His economic platform, which once seemed radical and included promises to re-nationalise important parts of Britain’s infrastructure, was praised by former Conservative minister Jim O’Neill.

Mr O’Neill said that by “addressing the failures of the market, house prices and low wages, Labour have caught the public mood”.

The push for an election also comes from fears that Mr Corbyn could suffer an electoral backlash if Britain left the EU without a deal.

A poll commissioned by the People’s Vote organisation, which is pushing for a second referendum, was published over the weekend. It showed Labour could lose a quarter of its support if it allowed a “no-deal” settlement.

The survey, which had an unusually large sample of 25,000 people, showed the state of support for the main parties as 40 per cent for the Conservatives and 34 per cent for Labour.

But when asked how they would vote if Labour allowed no deal to happen, their support dropped to 26 per cent.

Until the past few months, the party’s position on Brexit allowed it to avoid committing to any concrete policy as it watched the government tear itself to pieces over such issues as the Northern Ireland backstop.

As Britain enters the final countdown to March 29, the Labour Party could yet play a trump card to end the trials and tribulations of Mrs May, if not Brexit.

Updated: January 7, 2019 09:50 PM

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