Corbyn clarifies Labour’s position on Article 50 Bill – but who confused the issue in the first place?

[Image: Jonathan Brady/PA].

Jeremy Corbyn has clarified that Labour’s three-line-whip on Theresa May’s silly, 130-something-word Article 50 Bill extends only to its second reading, next Wednesday.

There will then follow three days of scrutiny-by-committee, when Labour will attempt to provide a shape to the Brexit process that has, so far, eluded the entire Parliamentary Conservative Party, despite its members’ best efforts.

Labour will seek to add a series of amendments, including one that will secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK, which This Writer knows has been of concern to many people. Harriet Harman submitted this amendment.

And the party will seek to ensure that Parliament has the final say on any exit deal proposed by Theresa May and her cronies, ensuring that they cannot simply force their own selfish desires on the rest of us.

Whether the vote on the third and final reading of the Bill will be whipped or not has not been revealed. My guess is that we won’t know until Labour’s success – or failure – in getting its amendments onto the Bill has been established.

To be honest, Mr Corbyn’s announcement, in his statement on Jo Stevens’s resignation, comes as a relief to This Writer. He said: “We have said all along that Labour will not frustrate the triggering of Article 50 and to that end we are asking all MPs to vote for the Bill at its second reading next week.”

This indicates that the row that erupted after he was quoted as saying, “It will be a clear decision that we want all of our MPs to support the article 50 vote when it comes up next week. It’s clearly a three-line whip,” has been whipped up irresponsibly by the press. The Guardian‘s article – from which I took that comment – is, at the time of writing, extremely confused as it seems to be saying both that MPs are expected to vote the Bill through at all three readings and that only the second reading will be whipped (according to Cat Smith’s tweet, which has been added since the report was first published, it seems).

The fact that Ms Smith at first argued against the whip suggests there was a certain amount of confusion and the reason for that is not clear.

Of course, there is also the fact that This Writer argued very strongly in favour of what Labour appeared to be doing when we all thought the plan was to approve the Article 50 Bill. You may be surprised, Dear Reader, to learn that Yr Obdt Srvt makes no apology for what was written.

I still think those arguments are valid, to be honest; perhaps more so than yesterday.

Voting in favour of the Bill at second reading means Labour can say it has supported the will of the electorate, as provided in the referendum result.

If the Conservatives block Labour’s (and the SNP’s, and anybody else’s) reasonable amendments, then Labour will be able to argue that it is the government that is frustrating the Brexit process – and therefore the will of the people – by trying to force the UK to accept departure from the European Union on terms that will harm the general public, either financially or in terms of their quality of life.

That would allow Labour to vote against the Bill, while still being able to say its members support the will of the people.

As for why the confusion arose in the first place – I don’t think we can rule out the possibility of mischief by right-wing, anti-Corbyn members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and/or certain members of the press. The origin of that original comment by Mr Corbyn needs to be clarified. Does anybody know exactly what was said, where and when he said it, and whether he said anything else? Because I don’t.

In fact, I think I might get in touch with the Labour leadership directly. I’ll let you know what response I get, if any.

Clearly the Labour leadership needs to be much sharper on this subject. If mischievous elements are determined to confuse matters, then perhaps it is time to start putting out information before it becomes available to rank-and-file members of the PLP – press releases saying what the leadership intends to put before the members, rather than waiting until after members have discussed the matters in hand.

Wouldn’t that stop malcontents from muddying the issues?

Yesterday’s decision was to support the Bill at second reading only, in a vote next Wednesday.

That will be followed by three days of line-by-line scrutiny in a Bill committee, at which Labour will attempt to shape the Brexit process – before a final vote, called third reading.

Most important, it is demanding a “meaningful vote” in Parliament on the final Brexit deal – early enough for Ms May to seek better terms if hers are rejected by MPs.

Its amendment states: “The consent of Parliament would be required before the deal is referred to the European Council and Parliament.”

Source: Labour may oppose Article 50 Bill if amendments rejected, Diane Abbott says

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30 thoughts on “Corbyn clarifies Labour’s position on Article 50 Bill – but who confused the issue in the first place?

  1. Peter Hepworth

    A good strategy, though it wasn’t made clear or certainly wasn’t clearly reported by the media that the whip applied to the second reading. I still believe that it is illogical to trigger Article 50 before its import has been clarified by the courts, with evidence from the drafter(s), one would hope.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Remember this Bill is not to trigger Article 50 – just to confer power to the Prime Minister to do so. The Bill may also set the conditions under which such power is conferred.

  2. Nikki Williams

    The year opened with a valid attempt to show that JC is a mould breaker who will not play the games the Tories play and will throw a curved ball out occasionally. I abhor Trump with all my heart and hold May with the same disregard, but faced with the challenge of finding a populist way through what is a conundrum for JC and Labour, I feel he needs to think ‘what Trump would do’.

    Effectively, he needs to follow through with the Will of the People meme beyond the bleeding obvious to anyone with an ounce of guile and say something like:

    “it was the will of the people back in June 2016 to expect the Tories to take the UK out of the EU and all the assumptions were that the ordinary working man and woman, the pensioner, the unemployed and the sick and disabled would look towards an improved compact between government and them.

    It is was not the Will of the People to be left £5000 (or whatever) worse off within 5 years
    It was not the Will of the People to be left with an impoverished NHS where the next step of the Tories will be to announce the need for private insurance and charging for its services.
    It was not the Will of the People to be sold by May & Co to the United States for whatever deal she can get from a man who has little respect for anyone other than himself and whose stated intent is to ensure America sells more goods and services to us than is currently the case (we export more in balance to them).
    It was not the Will of the People to be forced to walk away from the massive market of 500m people virtually on our doorstep and with whom we have deep business, historic and security ties.
    It was not the Will of the People to lose working rights such as holidays, maternity benefits and protection from discrimination and unfair dismissal.

    and so, looking at this, on the balance of what this government IS offering that is SO SO contrary to the Will and the Future expectations of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish People, we the Labour Party refuse to vote for the Article 50 Signing at this time and they can just **** off and come back with something better after we know if we can withdraw the Article 50 declaration 2 years down the line.

    We in the Labour Party cannot in all conscience support the Tories in triggering Article 50 and we call out to all those on the Government benches who agree with us to join us in voting NO to the triggering of Article 50 at this time.”

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      No, he most certainly should not have said that! (And please do not swear on this page!)
      All it would have achieved is allowing the Tories to pass the Bill in whatever way they liked. They would not have gone away and come back with something better because they have the majority in Parliament and simply don’t have to.
      By voting for the Bill at second reading, Labour both signals its support for the will of the people and its intention to submit amendments that will, if passed, turn the Bill into something better.

  3. Jonathan Wilson

    What get me is the hard right of the party have been saying power at all costs, power over principles, for months…

    … now they are saying “but principles – more important than power” as they argue against voting for A50; which would guarantee losing multiple heartlands leave seats to UKIP and/or tories.

    Sometimes I get the impression that no matter Corbyns position they will chose the inverse. I’m sure had Corbyn been saying “we will vote against A50”, the very same people screaming that Labour should vote down A50 would now be screaming that Labour should be voting for A50.

    If A50 gets no amendments, which is quite probable, and Labour then changes its position, you’ll see the usual suspects change theirs and do a Trump where the evidence of their previous positions will be denied, up will be down, 2+2 =5, black=white (and mankind gets run down at a zebra crossing) and we have always been at war with… – “just ignore your lying eyes”.

  4. John Hadwin

    I don’t understand how anyone familiar with parliamentary procedures could ever have been confused about this issue. Obviously Jeremy meant the vote on second reading, which would allow further debate and the moving of his amendments. To vote against the second reading would have been a present to the Brexit press who would scream that Labour was trying to frustrate the will of the people. As on most things, JC has been right – though his press office could do with a few lessons on Erskine May.

  5. Fibro confused

    This is what was made clear originally by Jeremy & John, the press got involved naturally and made it look like he was saying we won’t intervene……..full stop, no he never said that, if the Tories don’t amend the bill then it will get voted ‘against’ our weird way of doing business in parliament has helped the MSM add the confusion, he has no intention of just letting the Tories screw this country over, this way the public get to see what the Tories are up too, selling us down the river or across the pond and it will be the Tories by refusing to accept the amendments who will be seen as he has said again frustrating the process, Labour accept the democratic vote BUT not our country sent to wrack and ruin. Maybe I just get Jeremy’s way of thinking? I’m a bit of a simpleton so perhaps it was to simple and to easy to misconstrue

  6. Ed

    In fairness Mr Corbyn is quite elderly and should have allowances made for him in respect to his years. For goodness sake show the man some kindness and leniency. He really is doing his best.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      In legislative terms, he’s running rings around everybody else.
      It’s only the media misinterpretation that allows you to make your suggestion that he’s weak and old. He really isn’t. Wait and see.

      1. K Mitnk

        JC needs to step up to the plate and actually engage with the press / TV. He needs to be PRESENT. Not dwindling in the background making speeches to his mates and established supporters.

        He needs to take on the difficult crowds and the hard interviews. His voice needs to stand out. He can’t whisper something then be surprised when it loses focus when regurgitated by others.

        If he doesn’t engage and take part the press, the tories and even UKIP, will continue to run rings round him and the general public will continue to be thoroughly confused as to what the hell he stands for.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        You mean he should appear on shows like Robert Peston’s Sunday morning programme (soon to be repeated on ITV, as I write these words)?

      3. K Mitnik

        @Mike Sivier. No absolutely not. What good will that do for public opinion? He needs to hit the mainstream, take a look at Farage (who I detest). He isn’t even an MP and his profile/prominence eclipses JC by a huge margin.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        Farage has the support of a mainly right-wing mainstream media, plus there’s the fact that he knows he won’t get into office anywhere so can say whatever he likes.
        And he has been doing that for more than a decade.
        Mr Corbyn, after years being suppressed by the New Labour mob, certainly has a bit of catching up to do but is also seriously hindered by the MSM’s antipathy towards him and any message he may have.
        Perhaps you could write to mainstream TV shows and petition them to invite him on?

      5. K Mitnik

        I’m sorry Mike but it doesn’t work like that. The press don’t feature something because the public ask for it, that hasn’t happened for 40 years.

        We live in a world of lazy hacks and producers, they need to be fed content, it needs to be exclusive/easy/immediate. To believe that the press *should* come to you ,as JC clearly feels, is so naive it doesn’t even chart. He needs to play the game and give them something back or he’ll continue to struggle to get attention.

      6. Mike Sivier Post author

        So you’re saying Mr Corbyn needs to get on the “mainstream” (whatever that is), despite its complete antipathy to him, and despite the fact that you don’t want to encourage this “mainstream” to believe that a bit of balance is what the public wants?
        It isn’t going to happen, then. And believe me, the press is quite happy to pander to the public because that’s how newspapers get sold and TV programmes get ratings. I know this very well, having been a news reporter for 23 years. Don’t you dare try to lecture me about my job.
        You seem over-keen to misrepresent Mr Corbyn too, I notice. He doesn’t believe that the “press *should* come to you”, as you lazily pretend. He has taken steps to ensure that the press has to come to him, because he is making all the headway.
        If anybody is struggling to get attention, it’s you.

      7. K Mitnik

        Mike, you said it yourself – it’s antipathy to him, and that comes across very strongly in his presence across all media.

        If he doesn’t change that attitude then he will never be on side with the press/TV and reaching out and swaying public opinion will continue to be difficult. He’ll be stuck preaching to his pocket of supporters. It’s horrible game, but it has to be played. Of course he can try to make the press go to him, but this will continue to have little impact because they are used to being spoon fed stories, they don’t like to work too hard.

        Regarding my own views, I wouldn’t be saying this unless I was willing for a change. I want that because personally I feel this lets him down, and that it could be the difference between him being PM or not. In terms of misrepresentation it is clear to everyone that he lacks motivation in this area, I don’t think that’s news to anyone or misrepresentation in any way.

        Your last comment regarding my personal profile is very odd, that isn’t why I’m here.

      8. Mike Sivier Post author

        Then why do you keep coming back to make your frankly bizarre assertions about the media and Mr Corbyn?
        He doesn’t have to change his attitude. He’s doing all the right things.
        He doesn’t have to “be on side” with the media because that implies surrendering some of his principles. That’s not going to happen.
        He isn’t “preaching to his pocket of supporters”. That’s a lie created by your lazy media types.
        If the press are used to being spoonfed stories, then he’s doing exactly the right thing by your own admission. All he has to do is keep generating stories and your lazy media types will lap them up. That is your opinion, not mine.
        No, it isn’t clear to everyone that he lacks motivation in any area. It is clear to us all that you have a motivation to make that claim, and keep making it – and yes, it is misrepresentation.
        I think it is better for everyone if this correspondence ends here. You are repeating yourself.

  7. Geoff Walker

    You cannot absolve Jeremy Corbyn from blame on this. By not being explicit he has clearly upset his own MPs by failing to explain clearly what he was aiming for. This has been his failing all along. I know he is not a fan of the media and they are too much dominated by the far right but he seems not to have been media savvy enough to ensure that he minimises the chances that the right wing – and even some of the more left leaning – media can distort what he is saying. He has also failed by not being prominent enough and banging on with a clear, simple message on the implications of the May Thing’s model of Brexit.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’m not absolving him of all responsibility, though. I mention that the Labour leadership needs to ensure clarity on all its actions, in order to stop the media and rebellious PLP MPs from muddying all the issues, as has happened here.
      I don’t think it is necessarily a failing of Mr Corbyn. No party leader should have to expect his own MPs to betray him on a regular basis or the media to quote him so selectively that misinterpretation is invited.
      And of course it isn’t just a matter of Mr Corbyn being media savvy – he has a whole team of people who are supposed to be able to steer Labour past such obstacles. What have they all been doing?
      As for not being prominent enough – I’m afraid that is in the eye of the beholder.

    2. TcLiverpool

      Are you really saying the PLP do not understand Parliamentary procedure? Either they are fooling you or you are trying to fool us

  8. casalealex

    Email from Jeremy Corbyn:

    Dear Alex,

    Labour campaigned in last year’s referendum to remain in the European Union — and nearly two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain.

    As we all know, the result was a vote to leave.

    We are not a party for the 48% or the 52%, but for everyone. We have an important role to play in bringing the country together and getting the best possible deal from Brexit.

    Labour respects the will of the British people. But we do not respect the will of a Tory government that is threatening to relegate Britain to a bargain basement tax haven.

    That’s why we will vote to trigger Article 50 in the European Union Withdrawal Bill — but also will use every means at our disposal to make sure jobs, living standards, workers’ rights and environmental protections are protected in the negotiations that follow.

    So Labour has tabled a series of amendments to the Bill to ensure there is meaningful parliamentary scrutiny at every stage and a vote on the final deal.

    We have also tabled an amendment to build in the broad principles we need to get the best outcome for our country — including tariff-free access to the single market and an anti-tax haven amendment to make sure the Prime Minister does not use Brexit as an excuse to duck out of tackling tax avoidance and evasion.

    And we will support amendments to ensure the Tories don’t yet again attack people’s rights at work.

    This is a difficult moment for our party. We campaigned to remain, but we have to accept the democratic result.

    We will be reaching out to our friends and allies in the European socialist and progressive parties to help secure an agreement that strengthens cooperation and solidarity across Europe.

    We must remember that what unites us is far stronger than what divides us: our commitment to defend our NHS, to campaign against the Tories’ cuts to schools and social care — and our determination to build a country in which no one and no community is left behind.

    We will vote for Article 50, but we will not be giving the Tories a blank cheque on their damaging agenda for Brexit — or any of their other failures.

    Best wishes,
    Jeremy Corbyn MP
    Leader of the Labour Party

  9. concernedkev

    With May’s exhibition as the fallen woman of LIBERTY making a spectacle of herself with Trump and Erdogan everyone should see the way the wind is blowing. TOTALITARIANISM the ultimate goal.
    Discussion on A50 a diversion until all is in place

  10. Geoff Walker

    I agree with Mike Sivier’s last reply – what I was getting at is that one of Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest weaknesses is his handling of the media. I loathe and detest what Farage stands for but he has been very effective at selling his (tawdry) message. He’s everywhere and whenever there is something happening he sticks his oar in and gets away with it. Jeremy Corbyn needs to make himself more prominent and plug his message hard and in simple terms so there’s no mistaking what he’s saying.

    I’ll add two things to my earlier comments. Firstly it looks like those MPs resigning from the shadow cabinet mostly represent constituencies where Remain had a a substantial majority, so they can justify their action as representing the majority of their constituents. Secondly, I followed a link to an explanatory document on Parliamentary procedure on the process through which an Act of Parliament goes through and it quite clearly stated that an MP can propose amendments at any stage [where amendments are taken] regardless of how they vote at each stage. However, since it’s the speaker’s discretion which amendments are accepted for debate, it’s likely, if there are a lot of amendments, those proposed by MPs who voted against the bill at an earlier stage will go to the bottom of the pile and will not be accepted. Also a bill can be killed at the second reading if there is a majority vote against it and it may be that some believe that’s what should be attempted and are prepared to weather the media storm if they succeed (unlikely, I know). We musn’t forget that Brexit is being driven by a bunch of extreme Brexiters who would be happy to leave the EU, the customs union, leave the ECJ’s jurisdiction etc. and are not concerned about the impact on people’s income or the social and political effects – which latter, in my opinion would be the greatest losses from leaving the EU, though not being quantifiable their impacts would not be felt in the short term. My feeling is that these extremists are actually quite a small minority but they make a lot of noise so there appears to be more of them than there actually are.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Interesting points about whether amendments from MPs who vote against a Bill are likely to be taken!

  11. Brendan

    Dear Mike

    I have been trying to clarify Parliamentary procedure. Could tell me if a UK MP votes against Article 50 in Parliament are they allowed to vote for any amendments to it? It is my understanding that voting against a bill at the early stages, means that you rule yourself out of the process of tabling amendments, allowing the Tories to dictate all the terms of the deal.

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