Sunday 26 June 2016 – Brexit: Labour in turmoil, Scotland talks of vetoing Brexit, and the Welsh borough that voted Leave despite receiving generous EU funds

JEREMY CORBYN SACKS HILLARY BENN AND SPARKS A REVOLT IN HIS PARTY

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The backlash against Jeremy Corbyn and his perceived lack-lustre campaign to Remain in the EU has intensified overnight following the sacking of the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn (above) in the middle of the night by the Labour leader, who said he had lost confidence in Benn.  This has triggered members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet to resign in protest. Those already gone include:

  • Heidi Alexander, shadow health secretary
  • Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary
  • Ian Murray, shadow Scottish secretary – and Labour’s only MP in Scotland
  • Kerry McCarthy, shadow environment secretary
  • Seema Malhotra, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
  • Lillian Greenwood, shadow transport secretary
  • Gloria de Piero, shadow minister for young people and voter registration

Others are now considering their position. Other members of the Shadow Cabinet have said they will continue supporting Corbyn, among them Diane Abbott, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnel, Emily Thornberry and Andy Burnham. Burnham had ran for the party’s leadership last year and said today that he has never took part in a coup against a Labour leader and wasn’t going to start now. He said that Corbyn was elected by a large majority and he respected that and the decision of those whom elected him. Union members on the National Executive of the Party have also called for unity and said they will continue to support Corbyn.

 

However, tomorrow a motion of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party will be discussed at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting and may be followed by a secret ballot on the motion on Tuesday. If someone then comes forward to challenge for the leadership, Jeremy Corbyn has already said he will stand to be re-elected as leader and John McDonnell said he would chair his campaign again – as he did last year. Corbyn still has huge support among grassroots supporters and online some 180,000 people have signed a petition backing his leadership.

 

Speaking to Andrew Marr, Hillary Benn said that Jeremy Corbyn “is a good and decent man, but he is not a leader” – a statement that suggests that a good and decent man can’t qualify as a party leader in modern British politics. Benn continued the oft-repeated the somewhat contradictory argument that, despite his popularity among grassroots supporters and ordinary Labour party members, Corbyn hasn’t got what it takes to win an election:

“At this absolutely critical time for our country following the EU referendum result, the Labour Party needs strong and effective leadership to hold the government to account. We don’t currently have that and there is also no confidence we would be able to win a general election as long as Jeremy remains leader. And I felt it was important to say that”

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as party leader last year came about after the resignation of Ed Miliband following Labour’s failure to stop the Conservatives winning a majority at the General Election. Ed Miliband was exactly the type of leader Hillary Benn and others now criticising Corbyn’s leadership were happy to elect in the belief that they would win a General Election for Labour. He didn’t and the Labour rank-and-file revolted and – despite warnings from the likes of Benn – they elected a leader who represents genuine Labour values. They had tired of repeated Labour leaders since Neil Kinnock turning their backs on socialism and embracing  Tory-lite policies and ideology. Labour’s unwillingness to stand up against the austerity of Cameron’s Governments have only alienated ordinary Labour voters from the direction the Labour Party was taking.

 

Labour now faces a period of turmoil at a time when the country most needs it to stand united to see that Brexit works and that the people’s interests are protected in the withdrawal from the European Union. Instead, members of the Shadow Cabinet who have resigned are plotting and conspiring. Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary who has now resigned said that she resigned with “a heavy heart” and that Corbyn was a “man of principle” but:

“I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding and I believe that if we are to form the next government, a change of leadership is essential”.

The now former Shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell (below),  wrote in her resignation letter:

“It is increasingly clear that your position is untenable and that you are unable to command the support of the shadow cabinet, the Parliamentary Labour Party and, most importantly, the country.”

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John McDonnell is confident that Jeremy Corbyn will survive any challenge to his leadership, while Andy Burnham said this is not the time to plunge into “civil war.” The Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry echoed my view that the Labour Party needs to be a “centre of calm” and Corbyn “needs to show  some leadership” at a time when the country’s future is uncertain.


SCOTLAND’S FIRST MINISTER SUGGESTS HOLYROOD COULD “BLOCK” BREXIT

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Scotland’s  understandable anxiety over the  prospect of  being dragged out of the EU after it voted by 62% to 38% to remain in the Union continues unabated. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon – whose Scottish National Party hold just under half of Holyrood’s 129 seats and all but two of the Scottish Westminster seats – has suggested that the Scottish Parliament could block the UK’s exit from the European Union. In an interview with the BBC she said:

“The issue you are talking about is would there have to be a legislative consent motion or motions for the legislation that extricates the UK from the European Union? Looking at it from a logical perspective, I find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t be that requirement – I suspect that the UK government will take a very different view on that and we’ll have to see where that discussion ends up.”

The First Minister is perhaps clasping at straws with this idea as the Scottish Parliament doesn’t really have the power to implement such a power and, even if it did, it would generate huge resentment in the rest of the UK. The BBC’s political editor Brian Taylor asked us to imagine the resentment that would have been felt in Scotland in 2014 if the Westminster Government had turned around and vetoed the Scottish independence referendum if it had voted for independence.

 

Sturgeon seems to be referring to the notion of withholding consent for Brexit, but Adam Tomkins MSP said, “withholding consent is not the same as blocking.” Whether the First Minister’s idea is even possible is debatable.  The Conservative MP David Mundell told the BBC:

“We have to respect the result on Thursday, even if we don’t like it – it was a UK wide vote – it was a vote by people across the UK. […] What we need to see is the legal mechanism that we go through to get to a situation of the UK leaving. I personally don’t believe the Scottish Parliament is in position to block Brexit, but I haven’t seen the legal documentation that you refer to in your interview with Nicola.”

In the meantime the Scottish Government is already “talking to Brussels” on how it can remain the EU and the First Minister has initiated plans for a second independence referendum.  These seem to be far more likely routes for Scotland to be able to remain in the European Union.


WHY DID THE PEOPLE OF BLAENAU GWENT VOTE FOR BREXIT?

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Blaenau Gwent in Monmouthshire in South Wales, like most of Wales, voted in favour of Brexit on Thursday. The county borough voted by 62% to 38% in favour of leaving the European Union. This was despite the fact that the area has seen huge investment from the European Union to help regeneration after the collapse of its steelworks and other industries across Wales. In Ebbw Vale, a town in Blaenau Gwent,  the locals were expressing their reasons to the BBC’s Nick Palit. I’ve included some of the comments below:

  • “Basically, I think to get our country back, owned by ourselves and governed by ourselves without being told what to do.”
  • “I think people are trying to take control back from the Government, really. I think the immigration didn’t help either. Personally myself I don’t mind immigration. It benefits the country, but I think a lot of people have been misled by Government and also they’ve had a lack of information”
  • ‘I don’t know much about it to be honest. I’m thinking of my age and what can be of the future for our children. It might take a couple of years, but at the end of the day we’ll benefit.”
  • “Years ago everybody knew everybody. […] All the industries are gone, all the shops of any calibre are gone. […] Basically I don’t think a lot of people  wanted to go [into the EU] in the first place, a second chance really to have an opinion.”
  • “I think immigration really. That’s one of the things I voted to leave. But yeah, I think we’ll be better on our own in the long run.”

Wales since 2000 has received over four billion from the EU in structural funding – the highest levels of economic support from the EU in the UK. Yet Wales continues to be one of the most deprived areas of the whole EU – including the new Eastern European states. Despite the threat that this level of funding from the EU will disappear after Brexit the people of Wales voted by a large majority in favour of Brexit. Ebbw Vale and Blaenau Gwent are among the areas that have received the largest proportion of the funding. It is clear that the issues the led to a Brexit vote in Wales have much more complexity than just money, but the future is uncertain without such investment.

 

Pro-Brexit campaigners in Wales insist that the UK Treasury will continue to pour money into Wales and that Wales already has a higher proportion of inward investment than elsewhere in the UK. However, there are currently around 1,100 foreign-owned firms in Wales, employing over 150,000 people. Many of these firms came to Wales so they could benefit from the ability to trade throughout Europe without barriers. Large companies such as Tata Steel and Aston Martin – both of whom operate out of Wales are making concerning noises that their businesses depend on access to markets and are stressing the importance that Britain after Brexit maintains access to the European Single Market. This may very well happen, but it is not certain and therefore puts into doubt long-term and continuing inward investment in Wales.

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