90 Labour MPs have rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn’s instruction to abstain on an amendment that would have kept the United Kingdom in the European Economic Area, with six MPs quitting the frontbench to do so.
Crucially, 15 (plus suspended MP Kelvin Hopkins) of the 90 voted with the government to keep the United Kingdom out of the EEA, meaning you’d have needed at least 23 Conservative rebels to have kept the United Kingdom in the EEA had Labour whipped MPs to back the amendment. There were just three: Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry.
Now, of course, some Conservatives might have been more inclined to rebel had there been any prospect of the vote going the other way, but then so would the likes of Gareth Snell, Ruth Smeeth and Gloria De Piero, all of whom have publicly opposed any Labour attempt to keep the country in the EEA.
But it’s also true that Corbyn’s nationalisation plans wouldn’t pass the House of Commons as it stands, but the Labour leadership shows no sign of watering that down to meet the needs of the 57th parliament. The real reason why the Labour leadership is whipping MPs to keep the United Kingdom in the EEA is that they don’t want to end up there.
The important battle that is really taking place in the opposition is over what the next Labour manifesto says about the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union, rather than over whether parliament keeps us in the EEA this side of the next election.