You may have seen some headlines in the last 24 hours alleging that the Labour Party has been colluding with the European Commission, John Major, and various others to stop Theresa May realising her objectives for Brexit.
The accusations are not just totally false, but laughably pathetic, and – what is more – I predicted back in September that this is exactly what the Tories and their friends in the right-wing media would do when they realised they couldn’t make their fantasy ‘cake and eat it’ version of Brexit work.
Indeed, at PMQs yesterday, Theresa May used exactly the phrase that I predicted she would five months ago, when she said that Labour’s commitment to stay in a Customs Union represented “a betrayal of the British people”.
So I’d urge you to read the article that I wrote back then, copied below exactly as it was written for The Times website at the time.
And when you read the nonsense peddled over the coming months that it is somehow Labour’s fault that the Tories can’t get Britain the Brexit deal we need, or resolve the Northern Ireland border issue, remember that we predicted this attack was coming, and no-one should be suckered into it by a Tory government reduced to preparing for failure.
Emily Thornberry, Times Red Box article, 11/09/17:
In the right circumstances, preparing for failure is no bad thing.
It’s a reckless government that doesn’t have contingency plans for the economy tipping into recession, gas supplies running out, or the hacking of NHS computers.
We saw that irresponsibility last year in the government’s lack of planning for a ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum.
The Tory chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly called that ‘an act of gross negligence’.
But there is another kind of preparation for failure which is altogether less noble.
The kind where governments see a crisis looming, and think not about how to avert it but how to divert the blame.
And make no mistake, that is what we are starting to see with Brexit.
Theresa May’s party is allowing her to stay in post on the condition that she delivers the kind of Brexit they want, and then shuffles off with good grace before the next election.
The same might be said of her few remaining backers in the media.
There is little leeway in that arrangement for the kind of trade-offs that will be required to get a good, sensible deal on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.
We have seen that already in the reaction of many Tories to the very notion of a divorce bill, let alone some of the figures quoted.
And that is just a prelude to the much more complex and significant debate about what compromises the government will and won’t accept to maintain free, unfettered access to trade with the Single Market.
In other words, Theresa May is going into these Brexit talks with a gun to her head, where even the concept of negotiation is – in some minds – a byword for betrayal.
Alone in her No.10 bunker, she could be forgiven for thinking this is not just a thankless task, but an impossible one. Unless, that is, she redefines it.
If the prime minister believes that there is no way of striking a deal that will simultaneously be acceptable to the EU and her own party, and she lacks the strength or courage to defy the latter, then – barring resignation – she has only one way out.
Yes, that means preparing for failure.
She can look to generate a situation where her inability to negotiate a successful deal – with all the catastrophic repercussions that will have for jobs and business in Britain – is someone else’s fault.
In this dream world, she can bring forward a set of hardline, uncompromising proposals that she hopes the EU will reject and Westminster’s opposition parties will oppose, but that her own party and a majority of the public will support.
In that context, this week’s ‘leaked’ paper floating a possible future immigration policy makes a lot more sense, even if it has left every major industry in Britain utterly baffled.
Come 2019, in her mind, this will allow her to re-define the reality:
“I have tried to secure the best deal for Britain, but Brussels has refused to bend, with the shameful support of some here at home.
“Accepting their counter-proposals would be a betrayal of the British people and our national interest, so we must instead take our own course.
“It will be hard and there will be sacrifices, but the alternative would be far worse.”
It may sound like a winning political strategy, but there are two major problems.
First, the Labour front bench will not fall for it.
We will not be drawn into fabricated rows of the government’s making on every leaked document and fantasy proposal.
We have published our six tests on which we will judge the Brexit deal. If there is no deal at all, the Tories will have failed all six tests, and our verdict will be clear.
And second, the public won’t fall for it either.
They know failure when they see it, and no amount of preparation and deflection will save the Tories if – in the space of three years – they fail to achieve the one goal that was essential the morning after the result: protecting our jobs, trade and investment with Europe.
After the ERM crisis in 1992, it did the Tories no good to claim that Labour supported their European policy. And this time round, they cannot even claim opposition support.
From day one on 24 June 2016, we told them to focus on jobs and the economy. But they have not listened. And now they are actively preparing to fail on those very measures.
That is not just irresponsible. It is not just gross negligence. It is nothing short of a scandal.
And every time Theresa May and her colleagues try to play this game, we should call them out for what they are: a cynical, unprincipled government, whose only plan is failure.