Jeremy Corbyn backs a soft Brexit and dashes hopes of a second referendum

GettyJeremy Corbyn
  • Jeremy Corbyn writes to Theresa May offering to back a softer Brexit deal.
  • His new five tests for backing Brexit could all be met by the prime minister.
  • However, she is reluctant to rely on Labour support for her deal.
  • Corbyn’s letter enrages Labour MPs and activists seeking a second Brexit referendum.

LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn has offered to back a revised version of Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the clearest indication yet that the Labour leader is ready to work with the prime minister to deliver Brexit.

In a letter to May published on Wednesday evening, the Labour leader says he will back May if she drops her red lines and accepts the United Kingdom retaining closer ties with the European Union.

Significantly, the letter says that Corbyn has ditched the “six tests” which were previously Labour policy on Brexit, and replaced them with five new demands that are theoretically easier for May to achieve.

The original “six tests” for backing a Brexit deal included the condition that any deal must deliver the “exact same benefits” of EU membership, which was impossible to meet without reversing Brexit and staying in the EU.

Corbyn’s letter is the most explicit statement yet that he is in favour of a soft Brexit. It also dashed hopes among many Labour MPs and activists that he will switch the party towards backing a second referendum.

Corbyn signalled that he would be willing to back the current Withdrawal Agreement as long as the accompanying Political Declaration was altered to signify that the UK was opting for a softer Brexit.

“Labour has long argued that the Government should change its negotiating red lines and seek significant changes to the Political Declaration to provide clarity on our future relationship and deliver a closer economic relationship with the EU,” Corbyn wrote to May.

“That would also ensure that any backstop would be far less likely to be invoked.”

Corbyn’s new conditions for backing a deal are that:

  1. May must accept a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union.”
  2. May must accept “close alignment with the Single Market” including maintaining the UK’s existing “institutions and obligations” – the clearest signal yet that Labour could back the continued free movement of people from the EU.
  3. Continued alignment to EU rules, regulations and “protections.
  4. Continued participation in EU agencies and programmes.
  5. Continued co-operation in Europe-wide security arrangements.

A spokesperson for May said on Thursday morning that the prime minister “will reply in due course” to Corbyn’s letter but went on to say: “Our position on the custom union is well known and that has not changed.”

However, the letter will put pressure on May to give way and accept Labour’s support for a softer Brexit deal.

The prime minister has so far resisted calls from those in her party that support reaching out to the opposition and has instead tried with limited success to win over the 117 Conservative MPs who voted against her Brexit deal last month.

May will today head to Brussels to demand changes to the Withdrawal Agreement designed to appease both Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party which props up her minority government.

However, senior EU figures have all ruled out renegotiating the deal, unless May drops her strict red lines.

The prime minister is extremely reluctant to do this however, as it would risk triggering a major split in her party, which is already heavily divided following a failed attempt to oust her as leader before Christmas.

Jeremy Corbyn Theresa MayGetty

Corbyn’s letter is also significant in all but ruling out Labour attempting to prevent Brexit.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk said it was now clear that both major parties in the UK now supported Brexit.

“I know that still a very great number of people in the UK, and on the continent, as well as in Ireland, wish for a reversal of this decision. I have always been with you, with all my heart,” he said.

“But the facts are unmistakable. At the moment, the pro-Brexit stance of the UK prime minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, rules out this question.”

Corbyn’s letter was met with anger by Labour MPs who are campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU.

One of those was People’s Vote campaigner Chuka Umunna, who tweeted: “This is not Opposition, it is the facilitation of a deal which will make this country poorer.”

“A strong, coherent Labour alternative to this shabby, Tory Brexit is absent – it has been since this Parliament began. Totally demoralising.”

He was echoed by former shadow minister Owen Smith, who said: “Backing Brexit – even on these terms – would still shrink our economy, cost jobs and lost investment, indulge nativist nostalgia and isolationism…and pave the way for another austerity Tory Government. Remind me why we’d do that?”

Andrew Lewin, who heads the Labour Remain campaign, tweeted: “This is very serious. The entire Corbyn project was built on a promise to make it a member-led party. This latest move on Brexit is an affront to members and the policy we democratically agreed at Lab18 [Labour Party conference].

“Labour voters and members deserve so much better than this.”

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