Jeremy Corbyn yesterday called for a general election – once again. In normal times, this would be what you would expect from the Opposition. Passing up a chance to bring down the Government and win power would be seen as almost a sin against democracy.
However, these are far from normal times. If Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down, the UK will be heading towards “disaster” to quote the latest credible warning about a no-deal departure from the EU. This time it came from Business Secretary Greg Clark, as he relayed the alarm and bewilderment felt by business leaders about the current direction of travel at Westminster.
Asked if he would resign from the Government to prevent a no-deal, he answered by saying MPs needed to “put differences aside and establish agreement on a deal”. Asked the same question again, he said he would “always work and fight” to make sure the UK secured a good deal.
This suggests that Clark is prepared to put his country before his party, that he recognises the historic nature of the situation facing the UK. It is hard to say the same about Corbyn. Before the EU referendum he was so lacklustre in his support for Remain that some now believe he was a secret Brexiteer. He’s done little to dispell that idea with remarks such as Brexit “cannot be stopped”.
If May’s deal is approved by MPs next week, Brexit will proceed. If it does not, the UK will face a dangerous political chaos. A path out of that chaos may indeed require a general election or a second EU referendum. But Corbyn must realise that, despite his hopes to become Prime Minister so he can change Britain in a way that he believes would be for the better, now is not the time to seek power at all costs.
Clement Attlee was deputy Prime Minister to Winston Churchill during the Second World War, supporting him against those like Lord Halifax who wanted to sue for peace in Britain’s ‘Darkest Hour’ in 1940. That was a much greater crisis than we currently face. But Corbyn must realise the stakes are still too high and Brexit is the UK’s most important and pressing issue, despite his apparent belief that it is the election of a Labour Government.
If Corbyn seeks to play political games, this is hardly likely to help form the kind of cross-party ad hoc coalition of the sensible – with MPs like Clark – that will be able to stop a no-deal Brexit.