EU welcomes Corbyn’s offer of support for May
European Parliament Brexit negotiator urges ‘cross-party co-operation’ in Westminster
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani (right) and its head Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt give a press briefing following a meeting with Theresa May in Brussels. Photograph: François Walschaerts/AFP/Getty Images
The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator has welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to support Theresa May’s deal if she agrees to seek a closer economic relationship with the EU after Britain leaves. Guy Verhofstadt said after a meeting with the British prime minister in Brussels on Thursday that any agreement needed a stable, broad-based majority at Westminster.
“We have reiterated that we cannot have an agreement with uncertainty in the UK based on majorities of six, seven, eight, nine votes in the House of Commons, that a cross-party co-operation is the way forward. And I think I can say that we welcome also the letter that Jeremy Corbyn has written to Mrs May,” he said.
“It’s important now that this leads to a position in the UK that has the broadest possible majority so that we can conclude this negotiation.”
In a letter to the prime minister on Wednesday night, Mr Corbyn set out five demands to secure Labour’s support for a Brexit deal. He called for a permanent customs union, including alignment with the EU customs code, a common external tariff and an agreement on commercial policy that includes “a UK say on future EU trade deals”. Close alignment with the single market “should be underpinned by shared institutions and obligations” and a guarantee that Britain would keep pace with EU improvements in workers’ rights.
He also called for British participation in EU agencies and security co-operation measures, including the European Arrest Warrant. Mr Corbyn said changing the British government’s red lines to embrace his proposals would make it much less likely that the Northern Ireland backstop would have to be invoked.
The letter drew an angry response from Labour MPs who want to reverse Brexit through a second referendum and former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith suggested that he could leave the party in protest against it.
“I have always been very clear that I think Brexit is a disaster for our country and the Labour Party, if we are to be true to our values, should be opposing it,” he told the BBC.
Asked if he could now remain a member of the party he said: “I think that is a very good question and I think it is something that I and lots of other people are considering now.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Mr Corbyn’s letter did not rule out a second referendum, which is among the options the party agreed last year to consider if others failed.
Describing a no-deal Brexit as “an economic and human catastrophe” European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said the EU could move on the backstop if Britain modified its negotiating position that rules out membership of the customs union and the single market.
“We are open to being more ambitious in our future relationship, including looking at the Irish situation again if the UK’s red lines change. Of course it is impossible for us to change the content of the withdrawal agreement but we need to talk, talk, talk to the United Kingdom,” he said.