Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
30 June 2017

Is Jeremy Corbyn playing a long game to secure a soft Brexit?

The Labour leader wants to leave the European Union and the single market – and most of his MPs agree. 

By Stephen Bush

*/

Is Jeremy Corbyn playing a “long game” as far as a soft exit from the European Union goes? That’s the argument that some of his supporters in the commentariat are making. In response, Remainers say that there is no time for “a long game”: with every day that passes, the United Kingdom gets closer to leaving without a deal.

Who’s right?

To take the “there’s no time” point first: there is no group of people anywhere else in the European Union who believes that Britain leaving without a deal is good for anyone. The only people who believe this are some on the right of the Conservative Party and a minority in Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle. (There is another, larger group, who believe that exiting without a deal would certainly precipitate a Labour landslide in short order, but make it much harder to deliver a left-wing programme in the long-term.)

On the EU side, if there is a parliamentary majority for taking the Article 50 negotiations into extra time and a clear sign that on the British side, there is a new approach to talks, a way will be found to secure more time. While the damage is asymmetric – the United Kingdom would come off far worse in the event of a Brexit without a deal than the EU27 would – there is still considerable damage to be had, particularly if a British exit without a deal triggered a severe financial crisis in the British banking system, as is probable.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

So a long game isn’t a crazy idea. However, Corbyn isn’t pursuing one. He is a Eurosceptic of long vintage, who voted against every European treaty to come before the House of Commons in his tenure as an MP. Membership of the European Union and the single market both mean that the United Kingdom would be subject to the rules of the European Court of Justice, which limits the freedom of a radical left-wing government, at least as far as the leader’s office is concerned.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

As I wrote this morning, Corbyn’s personal view on the EU is a bit of a red herring as far as Brexit goes – ultimately, under the British system, parliament is sovereign and if there is a parliamentary majority for a longer transition, or an exit deal that retains one or both of Britain’s membership of the customs union or the single market, then parliament can bind Theresa May to seek it.

What really matters is not that Corbyn wants a drastic exit from the European Union, but that, at present, the bulk of Labour MPs agree with him.