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Mr Corbyn increased the Labour Party’s share of the vote more than any other leader since Clement Attlee, in 1945, when he denied Theresa May a majority in 2017. His was arguably the most spectacular fall from grace in British political history as he then led Labour to their worst result since 1935 just two years later ‒ leaving Prime Minister Boris Johnson with an 80-seat majority. The post-mortem is far from over ‒ but Brexit, as Mr Corbyn himself acknowledges, became the defining issue of the 2019 general election.
Labour’s message on Brexit never truly materialised ‒ the party having flip-flopped its way to endorsing a second referendum.
Mr Corbyn’s apparent lack of interest and, indeed, ignorance, has been explored in Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s new book ‘Left Out’.
The authors refer to a Labour meeting held shortly before Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement came before the Commons in January 2019.
Labour immediately resolved to vote it down ‒ but this did not go down well with Leave voices in the Shadow Cabinet.
Mr Pogrund and Mr Maguire note: “Ian Lavery, an unapologetic class warrior from the Leave-voting pit villages of Northumberland, sensed political danger.
“He said: ‘Move an inch this way, you’ll have blood on the walls. The other ‒ blood on the walls!’”
The authors continue: “Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, the fruit of more than 18 months of torturous negotiations with Brussels ‒ and her own party ‒ had just landed in Westminster with the force of an artillery shell.
“It now fell to [Sir Keir] Starmer, who had read all 599 pages of the document in his loft on the night of its publication ‒ November 14, 2018 ‒ to decode its contents for the edification of his colleagues.
“Sir Keir had been in full flow before the Shadow Cabinet’s Brexit subcommittee, doing precisely that, when Mr Corbyn asked quizzically: ‘What’s this backstop?’”
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Hindsight is a wonderful thing but this displays astonishing ignorance for a leader of the opposition, given the significance of the backstop in Brexit’s short history.
The backstop went on to be the defining issue of Mrs May’s premiership ‒ and her ultimate undoing.
It galvanised Tory rebels against her deal with the EU, forcing the UK into the European elections despite having triggered Article 50 two years previously.
It was a disaster ‒ for both Labour and the Tories ‒ as Leavers backed the Brexit Party and Remainers opted for the Liberal Democrats.
It sparked Mrs May’s resignation and paved the way for Mr Johnson to take over in Downing Street.
He renegotiated the backstop, legislating for a customs border down the Irish Sea before reaching yet another Brexit impasse trying to get his deal through Parliament.
This ultimately led to the 2019 general election, which Mr Johnson won convincingly, paving the way for Sir Keir to take over as Labour leader.
He has done all he can to move on from Brexit and take the debate forward.
Even after the Government attracted widespread condemnation when Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted the Internal Market Bill breaks international law, Sir Keir was keen to avoid confrontation.
He said: “We have left the EU, and therefore the arguments about Leave and Remain that tore us apart for years are over.
“I’m very clear therefore what’s now in the national interest is getting a deal. We need to get a deal and we need to move on.”
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News – Jeremy Corbyn’s staggering Brexit ignorance laid bare: ‘What’s this backstop, Keir?’