Alban Maginness: Jeremy Corbyn should put the national interest before party advantage
The Labour leader has an anti-European track record Jacob Rees-Mogg could only dream about, says Alban Maginness
Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein have long been anti-European bedfellows. In opposing the European ideal, they have been at one. Both opposed entry into the European Economic Community by Ireland and the United Kingdom. Corbyn, as a young Labour activist, even campaigned against UK membership in the 1975 referendum. Sinn Fein did the same in Ireland.
Both consistently opposed all subsequent treaties that consolidated and enhanced European unity and co-operation. Significantly, there is no major European initiative that Sinn Fein, or Corbyn, ever supported.
Indeed, Corbyn, at times, saw nothing wrong in allying himself with the Eurosceptic right wing of the Conservative Party in opposing European initiatives. The current Labour leader has a proven anti-European record that Jacob Rees-Mogg could only dream of.
During the 2016 Euro referendum, it was the Labour Party's official policy to support continued membership of the EU. By then, Jeremy Corbyn was the Labour Party's leader and conducted, by all independent accounts, a lacklustre campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union.
Rather than making a clear and persuasive case to stay within the union, he took a week's holiday in the middle of the campaign and removed pro-Remain lines from his official campaign speeches.
Many Labour MPs were, rightly, angered and dismayed by his lack of commitment and concluded that he was just a covert Brexiteer, secretly glad that the British people had voted for Brexit.
Indeed, the day after the referendum, he swiftly called for the immediate invocation of Article 50 to leave the EU. In 2017, he opposed the UK remaining within the single market and he sacked from his front bench team any MPs that voted in favour of remaining within the single market.
To date, even his front bench Labour colleagues do not exactly know their leader's real position on Europe. They know that he wants a 'jobs first' approach to Brexit, whatever that means. Corbyn has said that, if he was Prime Minister, he would negotiate for "a bespoke negotiated relationship with the EU, with single market rules, protections, clarifications, or exemptions, when necessary".
None of this political verbiage means anything, except to camouflage his empty policy position.
Fundamentally, he is at heart an unreformed Eurosceptic, still happy enough to vote against the EU with Tory right-wingers, like Boris Johnson and Sir Bill Cash.
It is, therefore, no surprise, given his previous dismal record on Europe, that he is opposed to Theresa May's Brexit deal with Brussels.
He called it "a botched, worst-of-all-worlds deal". He rubbished it in Parliament and, despite the stance taken here by businesspeople and their business organisations in favour of the draft withdrawal plan, Corbyn took the DUP's position and talked about a border in the Irish Sea.
All of this despite Labour's official commitment to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Although May's plan keeps Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules and remaining part of the single market, the Labour leader rejected it.
As the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said last week, Jeremy Corbyn knows the proposal isn't for a border down the Irish Sea. Eastwood described the Labour Party leader's position as not only wrong, but disingenuous. Perplexed with Corbyn's inconsistent position, the SDLP leader said: "This deal is not perfect, but it does offer us an insurance policy. The backstop protects us from a hard border and offers us the best-of-both-worlds' position in terms of trade."
In addition, the Labour leader also rejected a second referendum on Brexit. In the leading German newspaper Der Spiegel he said that Brexit could not be stopped.
This hugely defeatist remark drew an incensed response from Claire Hanna, South Belfast MLA and European spokesperson for the SDLP, who described his position as a "crushing failure of leadership".
She, rightly, said that he should keep all options open - including a second referendum.
The question arises, has Corbyn actually got a meaningful policy on Brexit, save a covert Eurosceptic position to leave as fast as possible?
There is a right for the electorate to know from the Labour leader where he and the Labour Party actually stand on Brexit.
Since the referendum result, no serious alternative has been offered by Labour to the Conservative government's position.
Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn is simply acting as leader of the Opposition and playing cynical party politics in order to bring down the dogged Mrs May and her Conservative government. But such a cynical exercise should have no place in politics at a moment of deep crisis.
Surely, at a grave time like this, serving the national interest should trump the Labour leader's personal ambition to become Prime Minister?