Tom Richmond: Labour lays bare its lack of clarity in Brexit attack

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used PMQs to tell Theresa May to step aside.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used PMQs to tell Theresa May to step aside.
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JEREMY Corbyn had clearly not heard one of his Brexit ministers in action when he impertinently told Theresa May to step aside – and let Labour negotiate Britain’s new customs arrangements with the European Union.

Though Paul Blomfield is a respected MP for Sheffield Central, his interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, just five hours before Mr Corbyn issued the challenge at Prime Minister’s Questions, was not his finest hour.

Accusing the Cabinet of being at war with themselves, he was asked if Labour MPs would team up with Remainers and support the House of Lords amendment which backs membership of the European Economic Area that would enable the UK to stay in the single market. “Well we are going to consider the position we take on the amendment at the point in which the Government brings the whole Bill back to the House,” said Mr Blomfield.

Asked on three occasions to provide clarity, Mr Blomfield kept to his script prompting his inquisitor to conclude that the Opposition’s policy is about as clear as the Government’s unclear position.

It got even more embarrassing for Mr Blomfield when he was asked to name those EU leaders and negotiators who back Labour’s call for a “new and comprehensive” customs union that operates alongside the single market.

After naming his boss Sir Keir Starmer – the Shadow Brexit Secretary – the Yorkshire politician blustered before saying that the remaining 27 members of the EU would view it as “a starting point” for discussion.

There are three conclusions to be drawn from this. First Labour does not have an alternative plan – and can’t, therefore, claim to be a government-in-waiting. Second, Labour is conflicted about the customs union with supporters, such as Neil Kinnock and David Miliband, at odds with Jeremy Corbyn’s unspecified scepticism. Finally, Labour is more interested in party politics than working with the Government constructively.

But it’s all the more regrettable that Mrs May, on becoming Prime Minister, did not involve all parties in the Brexit negotiations. If she’d done so, she would be less vulnerable to attacks from her own warring factions – and her opponents.

THERE’S growing evidence that Brexit has totally sidelined the legislative process at Parliament – the Commons agenda was so threadbare on Monday that those MPs present at Westminster only sat for a little over six hours.

Yet there’s no shortage of policies to deliberate. Bradford South’s Judith Cummins noted that the UK’s seven million unpaid carers have been waiting since 2016 for the Government to publish a national carers strategy and action plan.

The response of Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons? “If she would like to write to me, I will see whether I can obtain further information on where the report is,” she said.

That’s an insult.

And then Dewsbury’s Paula Sherriff, appalled by how a mother-of-three was killed by an unlicensed and uninsured driver, wanted to know when the Bill to increase sentences for dangerous drivers would be introduced. She, and the families of victims, had expected it last October.

Ms Leadsom’s reply? “The Attorney General is sitting on the Front Bench and has heard what she has said. I will certainly ask him for a further update,” she said.

That’s another insult.

Neither issue – carers or road safety laws – is particularly controversial. If Ministers can’t make some progress, there’s little hope for the Government.

THE tributes to Dame Tessa Jowell showed the esteem in which the Labour grandee was held. Sure Start creator, public health crusader, cancer campaigner, victims’ advocate after 9/11 – and the MP who strong-armed Tony Blair into backing London’s ultimately successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Yet I suspect she was so highly regarded because she either held no leadership ambitions of her own – or she chose, wisely, to keep her own counsel. If only the same could be said for Boris Johnson (and others).

THE unnecessary street signs in Leeds reflect poorly on the city’s management. If anyone at Civic Hall ventures along the A65, they will see signs for last weekend’s half marathon and the Tour de Yorkshire bike race at the beginning of the month.

And, while they’re at it, they should look at the ‘for sale’ sign outside council-owned Micklefield House in Rawdon. It’s asking for offers for the annex – closing date December 19, 2017. Perhaps finances aren’t as bad as chief executive Tom Riordan and leader Judith Blake make out.

TRANSPORT Secretary Chris Grayling used the ‘failing’ word on various occasions in the House of Commons this week. He was referring to franchise arrangements for the East Coast Main Line rather than his own new sobriquet which stems from his serial mishandling of this region’s railways.

I SYMPATHISE with critics of Leeds Bradford Airport after passing through it last week. Charmless security staff, a 15-minute wait after getting off the plane to be allowed back into the terminal on returning to Blighty – and shambolic arrangements for booking a taxi.

Welcome to Yorkshire – not.

RACING devotees here will never forget Auroras Encore’s Grand National win five years ago for Sue and Harvey Smith. Now the horse’s winning rider Ryan Mania, and his wife Annie, have named their new-born daughter Aurora after the Yorkshire horse. Congratulations.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk