Some Labour MPs say they will vote against Article 50 because their constituents voted remain but this makes no sense. It leaves Labour looking shambolic and incoherent since twice as many Labour constituencies voted leave than remain. 74% of all MPs are remainers but if they all voted like their constituencies Brexit would be guaranteed (63% supported Brexit – UEA). I wish Corbyn had a three line whip calling for abstention: no support for Brexit but a principled refusal to support it. Voting for Article 50 is the next best option. Voting against is self-indulgent posturing or a form of political self-harm.
The more interesting question is what do people hope to win by playing parliamentary games? Some, like Clive Lewis, seem to believe they can make a stand on membership of the single market; unless ‘membership’ (not access, but membership) is the aim of the negotiation they won’t support exit at all. You can hear the cry ‘people might have voted for Brexit but not for leaving the single market’. Think about it. Remainers made the best case against leaving the EU and staying in the single market; it entails all the obligations of EU membership and none of the rights. The economic case for membership of the single market is overwhelming; the political case is non-existent. We need to paraphrase Bill Clinton: ‘it is not the economy, stupid’.
Labour strategy should be pretty obvious. We are the European party and will champion re-entry to a reformed EU if and when a majority are ready to support it, after an election or a second referendum, some way down the line. But that time is not now. Right now Labour should expose every move that the Tories make as a betrayal of the British people: no trade deal can possibly give Britain the economic and political benefits of EU membership and we should relentlessly ram home that message, refusing all compromises on better-rather-than-worse deals, and confidently voting against anything they bring forward. In the meantime let’s talk to European socialists about the changes we want to see in Europe.