Front Bench: The Tories are fighting back against Jeremy Corbyn, but it’s Labour on the front foot

 Today’s Front Bench covers Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit u-turn. A sample of the email is below. If you like what you see, sign up here. Don’t forget to vote in the poll and leave your reasoning in the comments below. The best responses will feature in this afternoon’s Brexit Briefing.

Front Bench

Are you losing count of the Big Brexit Speeches yet? Yesterday it was Jeremy Corbyn, today it is International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s turn. He will criticise the Labour leader’s customs union plans as well as being critical of businesses leaders for supporting them, warning that the plans would leave Britain “with one arm tied behind our back”. The fightback on Corbyn starts now. 

Having finally decided to speak in public and at length on Brexit, Corbyn has made quite a splash. In the end, his speech didn’t tell us anything that we hadn’t already heard at the weekend. But it didn’t matter. He made the switch to supporting a customs union and now we all wait to see where the pieces fall. 

What was Corbyn thinking? 

In the reaction to yesterday’s speech, commentators on the Left were struggling with how to respond. Was this a stroke of political genius by Corbyn? Or was it just more pie-in-the-sky Brexit thinking? 

The real question is whether Corbyn was making domestic political calculations or a real bid to break the Brexit deadlock.

Some, such as Dan Roberts in The Guardian, have welcomed his new Brexit stance, arguing it might finally offer a third way between a “vassal state” and a painfully hard exit. Yet most Brexit related reaction has been caustic. 

On the pro-Brexit side it is seen as a betrayal that will fatally undermine Britain’s trade policy. For the anti-Brexit side, as Rafael Behr argues, Corbyn repeated the exact same delusions as May that leaving the EU can be painless and that the EU will accept a bespoke deal. 

Using Brexit 

The most interesting reaction however, came from Frank Field. The Brexiteer Labour MP was highly critical of Corbyn’s policy shift before the speech. He accused the Labour leader of “ratting” on Leave voters and thinking them “thick”. Yet after the speech he said Corbyn’s position was “marvellous” and that he would vote for it. Why? Because he didn’t believe for a moment that the EU would accept it. 

And there lies the rub. 

As Field told The Telegraph before the speech “membership of the customs union would be anathema to the Jeremy I know”. Does Corbyn really think he could negotiate the deal he proposed yesterday? Who knows. Does he believe he can bring down the Government and win a general election by backing Tory remain rebels on their customs bill amendment? Of course.

All eyes on the rebels 

So all attention now returns to the potential Tory rebels. William Hague writes for The Telegraph that they face that most difficult of questions for an MP – “whether to break with their party on an issue that could bring it down”. He argues that the Government will likely secure a customs “partnership” if it can, and so the huge risk of letting Corbyn and John McDonnell into Downing Street is not worth it. 

Number 10 is worried though, and it looks to be inching towards some form of concession on customs. In the meantime, the idea of making the vote on the customs bill amendment a vote of confidence appears to have been dropped because the Government wasn’t confident enough that it would work. 

It seems that three decades in Parliament have made Corbyn rather better at the domestic political game than some might have suspected.

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