May and Corbyn Both Face Friendly Fire as Parliament Returns
(Bloomberg) -- Both Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn found themselves under fire as British lawmakers prepared to return to work this week.
For May the issue was Brexit. Her proposed agreement was attacked by European Union negotiator Michel Barnier, who said he “strictly” opposed it. It was derided by her former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who said it was “almost worse” than remaining in the EU. Both of those criticisms were to be expected. More disappointing to May will be former Conservative loyalist Nick Boles saying the plan put the U.K. on course to “humiliation.”
Corbyn continued to be dogged by the issue that has dominated his summer, and prevented Labour from campaigning on other issues: The accusation that he’s antisemitic. Recordings of remarks Corbyn has made over the years and details of events he has attended have been dribbling out for weeks. The former Chief U.K. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Sunday said British Jews now wondered if the country was safe. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown added to the pressure by urging the party to respond quickly.
Still, while both May and Corbyn face difficult meetings with their lawmakers, the fundamental arithmetic hasn’t changed for either: Corbyn is supported by a majority of ordinary Labour members, making him unmovable. May can’t claim much grassroots support, but despite a Sunday Times report that Brexiteers are plotting to replace her with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, she’s safe as long as most Tory lawmakers think that removing her would be more painful than keeping her.
“I am clear about my mission,” May wrote in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “This government will fulfill the democratic decision of the British people by ensuring that the U.K. leaves the European Union on March 29 next year –- and that as we do so, we build a stronger, more meritocratic Britain.”
She ruled out a second Brexit referendum -- something she said would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy.” But Brexiteers reassured by that will have looked nervously at her words on giving more ground to the EU. “There will be no compromises,” she wrote, “that are not in our national interest.” That leaves her room for maneuver.
Davis on Sunday threw his weight behind a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU. He told the BBC the issue of Northern Ireland’s border had been “heavily over-emphasized” in negotiations, and could be solved if both sides had the “political will.”
Meanwhile Boles set out a plan for a soft Brexit as a bridge to a hard departure. His “Better Brexit” alternative would see Britain abandon negotiations and instead seek to continue membership of the European Economic Area, applying to become an associate member of the European Free Trade Association. This would give Britain a trading relationship with the EU similar to Norway’s. Boles then suggests negotiating a long-term agreement with the EU that would resemble Canada’s relationship.
For Labour, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell again hinted the party might be open to backing another referendum. “My preference is a general election,” he told the BBC. “If she won’t go for a general election, we’ll keep all options on the table.”
McDonnell was forced to defend his leader against the charge of antisemitism. With Brown, the most recent Labour prime minister, weighing in to urge the party to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, McDonnell said he wanted to see the issue resolved. He said the idea Corbyn was an antisemite was “so wrong.”
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