Has Jeremy Corbyn finally come to the Prime Minister’s rescue by writing to tell her his terms for supporting a Brexit deal? Probably not.
That might seem a rather equivocal answer, but in the end if Theresa May were to take him up on his offer it would all come down to how MPs’ votes would fall. There can be no certainty that the Government with Corbyn’s support would be enough to see what many consider as a bad deal to be passed.
After months (if not years) of avoiding a firm position on Brexit, finally – with just 50 days to go before we leave the EU – Jeremy Corbyn has produced a little list. It requires the UK to be in a permanent customs union with the European Union; establish close alignment with the single market, including and especially on labour market right and protections; continuing participation in European-wide agencies and funding programmes; and continuing participation in EU-wide security programmes, including the European Arrest Warrant.
For most who voted to leave the EU, these five demands, which would also require accepting jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over British laws and maintaining free movement of people, would be Brexit in name only. The offer to accept alignment with single market and customs union would also break with Labour manifesto commitments made in 2017.
Unfortunately, for those looking for closure on Brexit, Corbyn’s letter is just as likely to split the parliamentary Labour Party while ensuring many Conservatives would again choose to vote against their own government, thus denying Theresa May the majority she would need.
Earlier this week I listened to the remainer and former Tory business minister, Greg Hands, speaking at the launch of a draft UK-EU Free Trade Agreement he sees as the solution. He described how he believed it imperative for the credibility of democracy that the UK delivers on Brexit and this must mean leaving the customs union. Without such a crucial act of independence there could be no UK trade deals with the likes of the US, China or India. A typical moderate and centrist Conservative, Hands is not alone in that view.
Add to this number the many Labour remainer MPs who still cling to the belief that Brexit can be stopped and there is even more cause to believe the Prime Minister would fail to win a majority. They still hope to halt Brexit through either a never-ending extension of Article 50 or having a second referendum. They too could therefore rebel against the Labour whip, ironically siding with those who want Brexit.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna tweeted: “I hate to think what all those young voters who flocked to the party for the first time in 2017 will make of this. Vote Labour, get a Tory Brexit. They will feel they have been sold down the river.” Another Labour rebel, Owen Smith, once a contender for the party leadership against Corbyn, has threatened to resign from the party – suggesting Corbyn’s offer could be the catalyst for starting a new centre party made from Europhile Labour, Tory and lib Dem MPs.
Currently unknown is how the 25 SNP MPs would vote on a revised deal. Thus far their approach has been to create as much distance from the DUP-supported Conservative government as possible. Suddenly siding with Theresa May might be a step too far, especially as according to their logic it would close the door on a second independence referendum by creating a soft Brexit.
This chaotic state of affairs has not been helped by the Prime Minister appearing to go back on her willingness to “replace” the Irish border “backstop” with “alternative arrangements” – which is what the parliament voted for only last week. Theresa May is developing a specialism in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by making promises she almost immediately disavows.
Following her latest meeting on Thursday with Jean-Claude Junker the EU Commission President offered to put a legal commitment that could satisfy her need for movement on the backstop into the joint Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement. The problem is that the Withdrawal Agreement will be a legally binding treaty while the Political Declaration is a wish list and carries no legal force. It is in effect worthless and will not satisfy the DUP or Tory Brexiteers.
Corbyn’s letter is a long way from being the Prime Minister’s salvation while Junker’s willingness to talk will not win round the Government’s critics.