Corbyn offers May terms on backing softer version of Brexit deal
Pro-EU Labour MPs criticise leader’s offer to support deal for concessions
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn signs a letter he has written to prime minister Theresa May laying out Labour’s five Brexit demands before she went to Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Mr Corbyn wrote to the British prime minister on Wednesday evening, saying that Labour would support her agreement with the EU if the non-binding political declaration were changed towards a softer Brexit.
“We recognise that any negotiation with the EU will require flexibility and compromise,” the opposition leader wrote.
His five proposed changes include keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU, something that Mrs May has repeatedly refused to countenance because it would curtail the UK’s ability to sign trade deals. However, the tone of Mr Corbyn’s letter – and his willingness to accept the withdrawal agreement, with its controversial backstop to avoid a hard Irish border – deepened anger among Europhile backbenchers.
Chuka Umunna, one of the main Labour backers of a second Brexit referendum, said Mr Corbyn’s letter was “totally demoralising”.
“This is not opposition, it is the facilitation of a deal which will make this country poorer,” he said.
Chris Leslie, another Labour backbencher, said Mr Corbyn had put Labour’s conference policy, which potentially includes support for options such as a second referendum, “in the bin”.
Lucy Powell, a Labour MP who backs membership of the customs union and single market, said Mr Corbyn had made “a really significant move to break the Brexit paralysis”.
MPs on all sides of the Brexit debate are awaiting the outcome of Mrs May’s meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, on Thursday.
The prime minister has so far failed to specify what alternative arrangements might replace the backstop, the insurance mechanism that Eurosceptics fear would trap the UK in a customs union with the EU. She has mooted a time limit to the backstop and a unilateral exit mechanism, options that have been previously rejected by Brussels.
The EU has, however, indicated its willingness to amend the political declaration if the UK’s red lines change.
With just 50 days until the scheduled date of Britain’s exit from the EU, Europhile MPs are running out of time to influence the process. They are expected to table motions next week, calling for an extension of article 50, the EU’s formal exit process, and also propose that parliament hold Brexit debates in which MPs could vote on different ways forward.
Similar motions, put down by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Dominic Grieve respectively, failed last week, partly due to rebellions by more than 25 Labour MPs. None of the eight shadow ministers who rebelled was sacked from Mr Corbyn’s cabinet.
Europhile MPs and some trade unions now suspect the Labour leader is manoeuvring to allow Mrs May’s deal to pass parliament, without Labour taking political responsibility for it.
Along with a permanent customs union, the other Brexit demands made by Mr Corbyn are: close alignment with the single market; a pledge to keep workers’ rights in line with those in the EU; commitments on UK participation in EU agencies; and “unambiguous agreements” on future security arrangements, including “access to the European Arrest Warrant”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019