THERE has been a political earthquake this week.
Both Labour and the Tories have lost MPs and a new group is trying to break the mould of British politics.
Tories and Labour have lost MPs this week, but it’s Jeremy Corbyn who will be feeling the strongest aftershocks
Getty Images – Getty If Corbyn doesn’t back a second referendum, lots more Labour MPs will leave and join this new Independent Group
So far, this earthquake measures seven on the Richter scale.
But the aftershocks could KO Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of becoming Prime Minister.
Until now, Corbyn has sat on the Brexit fence.
He has managed to successfully straddle both Labour’s Leave and Remain wings. Now, this split is forcing him to choose.
If Corbyn doesn’t back a second referendum, lots more Labour MPs will leave and join this new Independent Group — all of whose MPs back a so-called People’s Vote.
It will then go after the votes of fervent Remainers.
A REAL PROBLEM FOR LABOUR
This would be a real problem for Labour — it had a 28-point lead among Remainers at the last election.
But if Corbyn gives in to this pressure to back a second referendum, he will hurt Labour in those Leave-voting constituencies it must take to form a government.
Of the 45 seats in England and Wales that Labour needs to win to get a majority, 35 voted Leave.
Compounding this, 16 of Labour’s 20 most vulnerable seats in England and Wales backed Brexit.
As long as the Tories can prevent the emergence of a new, credible Brexit party, then any new party in the centre will hurt Labour more than themJames Forsyth, Sun Columnist
Tellingly, the MP for Labour’s most vulnerable seat, Ian Austin, quit the party yesterday but won’t join the Independent Group because he does not agree with it on Brexit.
The Labour splits also highlight how the party leadership has failed to tackle anti-Semitism.
The fact that a Jewish MP is leaving a British political party after concluding it is “institutionally anti-Semitic” should stop everyone in this country in their tracks.
Those Labour MPs who have left the party will keep emphasising why they did so. If a significant number of people elected as Labour MPs don’t trust Corbyn to be Prime Minister, why should YOU?
PA:Press Association/PA Images Ian Austin, quit the party yesterday but won’t join the Independent Group because he does not agree with it on Brexit
PA:Press Association The fact that a Jewish MP – Luciana Berger – is leaving a British political party after concluding it is ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ should stop everyone in this country in their tracks
Getty – Contributor Corbyn will be feeling the fall-out more than counterparts
Of course, it is not just Labour who have lost MPs this week. Three Tories have walked out too. But there aren’t that many Tories likely to join them.
One minister from the Remain-voting wing of the party tells me that while one or two more could go, the overall number prepared to defect is “vanishingly few”.SWALLOW LIB DEMS
There is a feeling among ministers that Number 10 hasn’t handled the situation well. One Cabinet minister says the party splits “reflect both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s lack of personnel skills”.
Another minister complains that Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary who is threatening to leave the party, has been ignored since she quit government: “If you diss someone like Justine, don’t be surprised if you get a response.” But even Secretaries of State from the left of the party admit “a split on the right is more dangerous to us than a new centre party”.
As long as the Tories can prevent the emergence of a new, credible Brexit party, then any new party in the centre will hurt Labour more than them.
The Independent Group has high ambitions. It wants to swallow the Lib Dems.
But it won’t merge with them because it believes the Lib Dem brand is fundamentally broken.
In reality, the Independent Group isn’t going to win the next election or anything like that: Its position on Brexit puts a ceiling on its potential support.
There is, though, political space for it to occupy.
It could become a more effective version of the Liberal Democrats and that would see it win enough support to stop Corbyn becoming PM.
Reuters Justine Greening is threatening to quit the Tories
Seven Labour MPs quit the party in protest against Jeremy Corbyn
What Leavers want on Backstop
AT last Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, is being allowed to negotiate in Brussels.
This negotiation has always been too political to be left to officials.
Reuters Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, is being allowed to negotiate in Brussels
I understand that Cox is trying to agree the wording of any change to the Irish backstop with the EU, rather than arguing over reopening the withdrawal agreement.
His thinking is that once the wording is agreed, the question of where it goes becomes less controversial. I’m told the talks going on are “serious and substantial”.
Whether Tory Brexiteers are prepared to back the deal will largely depend on whether Cox can get sufficient changes to alter his written legal advice, which currently says there is a risk the UK could get stuck in the backstop.
DOCUMENT SETS OUT WHAT COUNTS AS ‘MEANINGFUL CHANGE’
A document circulating among Tory Euro-sceptics sets out what MPs should and shouldn’t regard as a “meaningful change”.
It warns that assurances from the EU Council would be “worthless” and changes to the political declaration would be “not legally binding”. It says an interpretative instrument would have “some legal value” but “would be a face-saver that would be legally pretty meaningless”.
Interestingly, though, it suggests the addition of a new protocol – rather than reopening the withdrawal agreement – could be sufficient.
It says: “Protocols are legally binding. Dependant on wording, a protocol could be added, giving the UK a right to exit all or some of the backstop.”
Getty Images – Getty The PM is likely to be hoping that her Attorney General can agree some legally binding wording that will help get her deal across the line
PHIL HITS HOME AS HE TAKES DIG AT PMAT Cabinet this week, they discussed how to increase the supply of new housing.
At a reference to the importance of backing building even in their own areas, Philip Hammond raised a quizzical eyebrow at Theresa May.
This, according to ministers present, led to the rather comic sight of her listing a series of developments that she had supported in her Maidenhead constituency.
But there’s a serious point here. Unless the Tories get more homes built where people want to live, they will lose power.
Among those who own their own home, the Tories have a 25-point lead.
Among those who rent – even in the private sector – the Tories trail by 23 points.
CommentLORD SAATCHI Your mind is the greatest natural resource and tech firms are stealing it CommentTHE SUN SAYS Our terrorism laws are inadequate and there’s case for caging jihadis for LIFE CommentTHE SUN SAYS Defected Tory MPs’ claim the party has been captured by far-right is baseless CommentANILA BAIG Nothing ISIS bride Shamima believes in has ANYTHING to do with being Muslim CommentBRENDAN O’NEILL Independent Group is a space for anti-democrats to war against Brexit CommentROD LIDDLE ISIS bride Shamima Begum doesn’t need help — but the liberals who support her do
May ‘making Brexit delay more likely’
ON Wednesday, the Commons will vote again on the Cooper amendment which would force the Government to ask for a delay to Brexit if a deal is not done and dusted by the middle of March.
I am told that unless Oliver Letwin, one of the ex-Tory ministers pushing this plan, has “got his numbers catastrophically wrong, it’ll pass”.
Getty Cabinet ministers have told Theresa May she must take No Deal off the table by extending Article 50 or they will side with backbench rebels
One of the reasons why is that May won’t reassure those ministers who have gone to see her about this issue that she won’t do No Deal.
One of them tells me: “I’m longing to be reassured. She won’t do it.”
Some in Government had hoped they might have a deal to bring to the Commons next week.
But one Government source apprised of what is going on in the negotiations tells me it is “inevitable that they will straddle next Wednesday”. Among the ministers who have been to see May to warn about No Deal, there is a divide about what to do if May is close to getting a deal. One tells me: “If she’s 90 per cent of the way there, it’ll be enough.”
But others disagree, warning “there’s no credibility in that” and that “by the end of next week, we’re in No Deal territory”.
One Secretary of State warns: “It is impossible to carry on this track without having a smash.”
Theresa May forced to deny she’s secretly planning to delay Brexit after bombshell leak reveals plan to run the clock down
TORY frustration with Theresa May is growing.
One former Remainer minister who had previously always defended her to me, now accuses her of “tin-eared arrogance”.
While one Brexiteer tells me May saying, “If you vote for this deal, I’m gone by September” might sway him to back it.
This is an offer May might have to make.
James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.