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7 February 2019

Will Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to risk angering Remainers backfire?

The TSSA, a trade union that is both heavily pro-Corbyn and pro-Remain, warned that Labour will suffer an electoral blow.

By Stephen Bush

Jeremy Corbyn has laid out Labour’s conditions for backing a Brexit deal in an open letter to Theresa May, containing five demands for the party’s support in the Commons.

The most important thing about the five demands, as I explain in more detail here, is that unlike Labour’s six tests, which were written to be failed and to facilitate the opposition voting against the withdrawal agreement, these are demands that can be met.

There are parts where you can fairly quibble the detail, but, as I wrote at the time of May’s Chequers proposals, what mattered then wasn’t the granular detail but that she had chosen, in the trade-off between regulatory freedom and market access to choose market access over freedom. (Today’s jaw-dropping realisation: the Chequers summit was only in July 2018. I feel as if I’ve aged about 20 years since then.)

What matters now is that faced with the choice, Corbyn is signalling that changes to the political declaration – the accompanying document on the future relationship, rather than the withdrawal agreement itself – will be sufficient to win Labour support. He has crossed the Rubicon and made a decisive choice to risk the anger of Remainers rather than of Leavers.

Much depends on three things: the first being how much May can give up, whether through freely given concession or through defeat in the House of Commons. The second is whether Conservative Brexiteers will start to worry that if they don’t vote for May’s deal they will end up with something softer still.

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And the third is what this does to Labour’s opinion poll rating. It’s been warned that by backing Brexit, Labour will suffer a heavy electoral blow, if you believe this leaked analysis by the TSSA, a trade union that is both heavily pro-Corbyn and pro-Remain.

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For reasons I’ve explained before, I’m highly dubious that any poll can accurately model how voters will behave in a hypothetical context. But we aren’t in a hypothetical context anymore. If we have a run of polls in which Labour is down and the various anti-Brexit parties of the centre and left are up then it may be that Labour has to find a very different position to the one it has now.