Corbyn has a savvy game plan: wait for the Tories to implode over Brexit – The Guardian
Both views, however, misread the thinking behind Corbyn’s Brexit strategy, and exaggerate ideological divisions. Corbyn’s views on Europe might be at odds with many of the pro-EU MPs in the Labour party. However, his Euroscepticism is fundamentally different from that of the hard Brexiteers in the Conservative party. For them the EU question assumes a life-or-death importance. For Corbyn, the fight against austerity, not the EU, is centre stage. He might view the EU with a disapproving shake of the head, but he will be unwilling to prioritise it over other objectives. His pledge to keep the European convention on human rights and guarantee the status of EU citizens living in the UK demonstrates that his EU scepticism is more nuanced than has been assumed.
Rather than being about ideological preferences, Corbyn’s manoeuvring on Brexit is based on an astute political calculation that it will exacerbate divisions within the Tories: the prime target is not Brussels, but the Conservatives. Redesigning Britain’s relations with the EU is less of a priority than waiting for the Conservatives to implode over Brexit. Corbyn’s strategy is to let the Tories clear up the toxic mess that they have created while leaving them poisoned in the process. His refusal to criticise Theresa May on pulling Britain out of the single market is an illustration of this point: the intent is to let the Conservatives take the self-destructive initiative over this thorny question.
Crashing out of the single market will have negative consequences for the British economy. It will also dismay pro-EU liberals and business interests, and heighten tensions within the Labour party. The immediate priority for Corbyn, however, is to force an early election and win it. What better way to accelerate this than by weakening the Conservatives by letting them get on with the disaster that is Brexit? Labour has little to gain by actively engaging in something as poisonous as Brexit: that is the message that Corbyn is trying to stress to his party. As opposed to being a leader of a protest movement, Corbyn is instilling the internal discipline required of a party focused on taking power.
The signs up to now seem to vindicate Corbyn’s approach. Although criticised relentlessly for his meek opposition to the Conservatives’ Brexit plan, Corbyn did not have to do much to weaken his opponents: May still has no coherent Brexit strategy; her cabinet remains divided; David Davis has had to cave in to the demands of Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator; and the government’s approval rating has plummeted since the election. Parties that ran on an explicitly pro-EU platform, such as the SNP and Liberal Democrats did not do well either. Rather, Corbyn’s priority of combating austerity is a strategy that seems to be have paid off.
This strategy of course, is not without risk. To what extent Corbyn can successfully keep his recalcitrant MPs in line on the single market remains to be seen. The possibility that one group of Labour supporters might feel betrayed cannot be ruled out. More importantly, if Labour does manage to oust the Conservatives and form a government, Corbyn will need to offer a more concrete vision of Brexit than he is doing in opposition.
For the moment, however, Corbyn is determined to keep Labour in the back seat on Brexit, waiting for the moment that the Conservatives crash. He will make sure that no one in the Labour party interferes with the process, even if its entails ruthless sackings. Corbyn might never waver from some of his idealistic positions. On Brexit, however, he is proving himself to be a savvy and astute political operator, intent on destroying his opponents and snatching power from them when they are at their weakest.