Tuesday 20 August 2019 5:42 am

Give Corbyn some credit – he helped to deliver Brexit

When the history books are written, Boris Johnson may well be remembered as the man who delivered Brexit. But there is someone else who would deserve almost as much credit for Britain’s departure from the EU: Jeremy Bernard Corbyn.

Admittedly, Corbyn’s current role in enabling Brexit is mostly involuntary. It turns out that he is so galactically unpopular with his fellow parliamentarians, with the prospect of him becoming Prime Minister (even on a time-limited basis) so monumentally unthinkable, that the forces of Remain can barely envisage rallying behind him. Hence the desperate and probably doomed casting round for a potential alternative that we continue to see.

But the truth is that, throughout the Brexit process, Jezza is one of the politicians who has most consistently delivered the goods for the Leave side.

Let’s start with the referendum itself. Tim Shipman’s book about the campaign, All Out War, devotes an entire chapter to the many and varied ways in which Corbyn and his team sabotaged the Remain effort. 

Alan Johnson, who headed the Labour In campaign, found himself effectively blanked by his leader. Leaflets were printed and never sent. Press releases were delayed. Seamus Milne, Corbyn’s consigliere, made sure to remove phrases like “Labour are united behind Remain”. 

Days in the Remain campaign’s grid were allocated to Labour, but never used. When Corbyn did make speeches, they were mostly rambling complaints about the EU’s flaws, with a grudging “but vote for it anyway” at the end.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Like his mentor Tony Benn, Corbyn is an old-fashioned hard-left anti-European. He is one of the few people in Britain who believes that the real problem with the EU is that it is too friendly to Anglo-Saxon capitalism. 

He voted against the Maastricht treaty. His shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, produced a “manifesto for 21st-century socialism” which included “opposition to an undemocratic EU dominated by corporate interests” as one of its central planks. 

On bumping into Labour’s few eurosceptics during the campaign, Corbyn wished them good luck.

The impact was clear. Throughout the referendum campaign, staggering numbers of Labour voters did not realise which side their party was actually on. Days after the vote, Labour MPs voted 172-40 that they had no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership – because he had so obviously tanked the campaign.

Despite this, some Corbyn fanatics will insist that their man really did do his best. The truth is that Corbyn approached campaigning for Remain in the same way that my toddler approaches bedtime – he knows it has to happen, but he’s damned if he’s going to make it easy for anyone.

In the wake of the vote, Labour spent years attempting to keep both Remain and Leave voters happy – an increasingly impossible task. Corbyn kept trying to ride both horses even as they were galloping in opposite directions.

Gradually, grudgingly, the weight of pressure from Labour’s supporters, MPs and affiliates pushed him and his team in the Remain direction. But like the famous paradox of Zeno’s arrow, Corbyn always seemed to be in the process of moving towards the people’s vote position without ever actually getting there.

Even when Labour was shellacked at the European elections – losing swathes of voters to the Liberal Democrats with their “Bollocks to Brexit” platform – the Corbyn team still insisted that their priority was to get their man into Number 10, then negotiate their own deal (which would magically please both Leavers and Remainers alike by simultaneously offering all the benefits of membership and of withdrawal). 

As for the next few crucial weeks, it does appear that the prospect of Corbyn as PM – to many MPs – outweighs even the threat of no-deal.

And they’ve got a point. 

Even the Bank of England’s worst-case Brexit scenario – designed as a truly apocalyptic stress-test of the banking system in which the authorities were lunatic enough to tighten monetary policy in the middle of a no-deal departure – is still positively rosy compared to the experience of those countries whose hard-left governments Corbyn and his clique have explicitly held up as economic role models (Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia being the most obvious). 

That’s without mentioning Corbyn’s foreign policy positions, in particular his long history of associating with and championing this nation’s enemies.

No one can know exactly what will happen over the next two months. It may still be that a Remain coalition will assemble behind Corbyn. But it will nonetheless be true that, both as head of the Leave campaign and now as head of a Leave government, Boris Johnson has not been just lucky in his enemy, but positively blessed.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.