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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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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

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Prostate cancer research has had a £75m welcome boost. Now let’s treat another killer of men

Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women.

The opening months of 2018 have seen a flurry of activity in men’s health. In February, figures were published showing that the number of male patients dying annually from prostate cancer – around 12,000 – has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. Whether coincidence or not, this news was followed shortly by two celebrities going public with their personal diagnoses of prostate cancer – Stephen Fry, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.

Fry and Turnbull used their profiles to urge other men to visit their doctors to get their PSA levels checked (a blood test that can be elevated in prostate cancer). Extrapolating from the numbers who subsequently came to ask me about getting screened, I would estimate that 300,000 GP consultations were generated nationwide on the back of the publicity.

Well-meaning as Fry’s and Turnbull’s interventions undoubtedly were, they won’t have made a jot of positive difference. In March, a large UK study confirmed findings from two previous trials: screening men by measuring PSA doesn’t actually result in any lives being saved, and exposes patients to harm by detecting many prostate cancers – which are often then treated aggressively – that would never have gone on to cause any symptoms.

This, then, is the backdrop for the recent declaration of “war on prostate cancer” by Theresa May. She announced £75m to fund research into developing an effective screening test and refining treatments. Leaving aside the headline-grabbing opportunism, the prospect of additional resources being dedicated to prostate cancer research is welcome.

One of the reasons breast cancer has dropped below prostate cancer in the mortality rankings is a huge investment in breast cancer research that has led to dramatic improvements in survival rates. This is an effect both of earlier detection through screening, and improved treatment outcomes. A similar effort directed towards prostate cancer will undoubtedly achieve similar results.

The reason breast cancer research has been far better resourced to date must be in part because the disease all too often affects women at a relatively young age – frequently when they have dependent children, and ought to have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies have been caused by breast malignancy. Prostate cancer, by contrast, while it does affect some men in midlife, is predominantly a disease of older age. We are more sanguine about a condition that typically comes at the end of a good innings. As such, prostate cancer research has struggled to achieve anything like the funding momentum that breast cancer research has enjoyed. May’s £75m will go some way to redressing the balance.

In March, another important men’s health campaign was launched: Project 84, commissioned by the charity Calm. Featuring 84 haunting life-size human sculptures by American artist Mark Jenkins, displayed on the rooftops of ITV’s London studios, the project aims to raise awareness of male suicide. Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women. Suicide is the leading cause of male death under 45 – men who frequently have dependent children, and should have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies.

I well remember the stigma around cancer when I was growing up in the 1970s: people hardly dared breathe the word lest they became in some way tainted. Now we go on fun runs and wear pink ribbons to help beat the disease. We need a similar shift in attitudes to mental health, so that it becomes something people are comfortable talking about. This is gradually happening, particularly among women. But we could do with May declaring war on male suicide, and funding research into the reasons why so many men kill themselves, and why they don’t seem to access help that might just save their lives. 

Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel, “You”, is published by Salt

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge