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Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit speech – a significant political gamble

Dr Adrian Pabst

In response to the news that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will announce that Labour wants a customs union with the EU the University of Kent’s Dr Adrian Pabst, an expert on the Labour Party says this is a ‘significant political gamble. Contributor Dr Adrian Pabst, Reader in Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations.

The aim is to create clear blue water with the Tories who favour leaving not just the single market but also the customs union. Far from being a technical detail, Labour’s strategy is to provide clarity at a time when the governing Conservative Party is struggling to formulate a common position.

Corbyn seems to calculate that Tory Remainers will vote with Labour to defeat the government and possibly topple Theresa May as Prime Minister. The hope is that this will be trigger another early election that Labour thinks it’ll win. However, Labour’s new position is unclear in several respects. First, on the question of national sovereignty, how will Labour answer the charge of claiming to respect the referendum result while in reality submitting to EU rules without having a say and accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice?

Second, on party politics, how will Labour persuade Tory rebels to go against the Conservative Party manifesto and vote down their government, which would plunge the Tories into the greatest crisis since the split over the Corn Laws in the mid-nineteenth century? Third, on Labour’s electoral base, how will Corbyn address widespread concerns among its working-class voters about the volume and pace of immigration? He talks mostly about ‘jobs, rights and living standards’ and treats immigration as a purely economic issue rather than a cultural issue that raises questions of identity.

Traditional Labour voters in the North and across the Midlands may switch to the Conservatives, which would put at risk Labour’s chances of winning the next election. Therefore Corbyn’s announcement may yield short-term political gains at the expense of long-term electoral losses.

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