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Jeremy Corbyn faces no confidence motion and leadership challenge

Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have submitted a motion ahead of Monday's PLP meeting. 

The long-threatened coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn has begun. I reported several weeks ago that Brexit would be "the trigger" for a leadership challenge and Corbyn's opponents have immediately taken action. Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have submitted a motion of no confidence in the Labour leader for discussion at Monday's PLP meeting. If accepted, it will be followed by a secret ballot of MPs on Tuesday. A spokesman for Corbyn told me it was "time for the party to unite and focus on the real issues that affect peope from today's decision and hold the government to account on their exit negotiations." 

Any confidence motion would be purely symbolic. But Corbyn's opponents are also "absolutely convinced" that they have the backing of the 51 MPs/MEPs needed to endorse a leadership challenger and trigger a contest. Letters are expected to be delivered to general secretary Ian McNicol from this weekend. The prospect of a new Conservative prime minister and an early general election has pushed MPs towards action. "We have to get rid of him now," a former shadow cabinet minister told me. "If we go into an election with him as leader we'll be reduced to 150 seats."

Hilary Benn, Tom Watson, Angela Eagle and Dan Jarvis are among those cited as potential candidates. One MP suggested that a "Michael Howard figure" was needed to steer the party through the next election. John McDonnell, Corbyn's closest ally and another potential successor, is believed to lack sufficient support (15 per cent of MPs/MEPs) to make the ballot. 

Labour figures were dismayed by Corbyn's performance during the referendum and partly blame his lack of enthusiasm for defeat. Polling showed that nearly half of the party's voters were unaware of its position a few weeks before polling day. Corbyn is also charged with costing support by conceding the weekend before the referendum that it was "impossible" to limit free movement. "It simply shone a light on how utterly out of touch Corbyn and McDonnell are with many traditional Labour voters outside of London," a senior MP told me. "Jeremy made the biggest concern for traditional Labour voters thinking of voting Leave - the impact of freeedom of movement - his main reason why Britain should Remain. It was a sort of political suicide of genius proportions." 

The rebels are seeking shadow cabinet support for their challenge (one spoke of a "moral responsibility" on them) but no one called for Corbyn's resignation at today's two and three quarter hour meeting. I'm told that shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray was the only member to directly criticise his leadership. In a statement relesed earlier today, Watson emphasised the need for "stability". He said: "Labour has lessons to learn and we will to continue to listen but our focus over the next few days must be to reassure voters, millions of whom are very concerned about our country's future. They should know that we will work in Parliament to provide stability in a period of great instability for our country." 

The general secretaries of 12 affiliated trade unions have rejected any move against Corbyn. In a statement published on LabourList, they wrote: "The Prime Minister’s resignation has triggered a Tory leadership crisis. At the very time we need politicians to come together for the common good, the Tory party is plunging into a period of argument and infighting. In the absence of a government that puts the people first Labour must unite as a source of national stability and unity.

"It should focus on speaking up for jobs and workers’ rights under threat, and on challenging any attempt to use the referendum result to introduce a more right-wing Tory government by the backdoor. 

"The last thing Labour needs is a manufactured leadership row of its own in the midst of this crisis and we call upon all Labour MPs not to engage in any such indulgence."

Many Labour MPs accept that Corbyn would likely win any leadership contest owing to his mass support among party activists. But they are prepared to make multiple attempts. "If you’re going to go for it, you’ve got to accept that the first time he would come back and win," an MP told me. You’ve then got to be ready to go again. The first time will be a softening-up exercise. I don’t think he’d run again twice, I don’t think he has the guts for it.”

Earlier reports of a letter signed by 55 Labour MPs calling for Corbyn to resign were  dismissed by some as a leadership plant. "It's Damian [McBride] or someone who's read his book," one suggested. They believe the claim was a time-honoured device to weaken the rebels by creating false expectations.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.