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Jeremy Corbyn is the only politician with a Brexit strategy that's working

The Labour leader is doing just enough to keep his 2017 coalition together. 

A lot has been written about Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit, but it often neglects the most important fact: he’s winning.

It’s true that the Labour leader is an instinctive Eurosceptic, but as far as the path to a softer Brexit goes, the bigger obstacle is the large chunk of Labour MPs, mainly concentrated in Yorkshire and the Midlands. Although there are perhaps ten to 15 frontbenchers who might change their vote if the official position changes, they are outweighed by backbenchers who are voting with the party position not under duress but because they broadly support it.

(It’s worth adding that against this, many pro-European Labour MPs believe that their colleagues would switch to a softer position if they didn’t have the cover of following Corbyn’s instructions. It’s not so much that the official party position is forcing their hand – it’s that it is staying the hand of the largely pro-Corbyn membership from agitating against MPs voting for a harder Brexit.)

In any case, while Corbyn is not a Europhile he also doesn’t have religion on the matter. The leadership’s big priority is holding on to its 2017 coalition, and positioning itself to discomfort the government wherever possible.

And it's doing a very good job of it: Corbyn largely avoids tackling the government on the substance of Brexit but instead points to ministerial divisions, while doing just enough – yesterday’s decision not to talk about the EU at Prime Minister's Questions, and today’s statement that he would vote Remain in the event of a second referendum is a case in point – to keep Remainers on side.

In any case, thanks to first past the post, the only unequivocally anti-Brexit parties struggle to break out of their electoral cages. The difficulty with “vote Liberal Democrat to stop Brexit”, is that its highlights, rather than distracts from, the third party’s perennial problem – that people don’t think they can win and therefore won’t vote for them. Pledging to stop Brexit means that people simply start thinking about the fact the Liberal Democrats can’t form a government.

As for the Conservatives, the big problem with their Brexit strategy is that it is designed around the political predilections of their parliamentary party, rather than any cohesive strategy to retain the support of the 13 million people who voted for them in June, let alone one that aims to get more votes than they did last time.

(Ironically, the only other group with a Brexit strategy that coheres with their party-political objectives are Corbyn's internal critics: by backing the single market they a) preserve an essential pillar of their economic model, b) remind Labour members that they are not all bad, and c) open a wedge with their leader.)

That isn’t to say that Labour’s Brexit strategy isn’t, in my view, wrong for the country or potentially fatal to the party’s hopes of enacting its manifesto. But it is to say that any analysis that starts by asking “What is Corbyn doing?” ignores that the obvious answer is “succeeding”, at least as far as the next election goes. 

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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Will the Brexit Cabinet talks end in a “three baskets” approach?

The joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. 

It's decision day in the Brexit talks. Again.

The Brexit inner Cabinet will meet to hammer out not its final position, but the shape of its negotiating position. The expected result: an agreement on an end state in which the United Kingdom agrees it will follow EU regulations as it were still a member, for example on aviation; will agree to follow EU objectives but go about them in its own way, for example on recycling, where the British government wants to do more on plastic and less on glass; and finally, in some areas, it will go its way completely, for instance on financial services. Or as it has come to be known in Whitehall, the "three baskets" approach.

For all the lengthy run-up, this bit isn't expected to be difficult: the joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. There are two difficulties: the first is that the EU27 won't play ball, and the second is that MPs will kick off when it emerges that their preferred basket is essentially empty.

The objections of the EU27 are perhaps somewhat overwritten. The demands of keeping the Irish border open, maintaining Europol and EU-wide defence operations means that in a large number of areas, a very close regulatory and political relationship is in everyone's interests. But everyone knows that in order for the Conservative government to actually sign the thing, there is going to have to be some divergence somewhere.

The bigger problem is what happens here at home when it turns out that the third basket - that is to say, full regulatory autonomy - is confined to fishing and the "industries of the future". The European Research Group may have a few more letters left to send yet.

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.