Corbyn faces Labour backlash over Brexit offer to May

PUBLISHED: 14:45 07 February 2019

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Pic: Gareth Fuller/PA Images

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Pic: Gareth Fuller/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

Jeremy Corbyn is facing the prospect of Labour MPs and members quitting the party over his stance on Brexit.

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The Labour leader has written to the prime minister setting out five demands that need to be met to get his party’s support for a Brexit deal.

But Owen Smith, his former leadership rival, said he was considering his position in the party and hit out at the prospect of Labour MPs being asked to back a deal which he said would damage livelihoods.

Other pro-EU MPs also criticised Corbyn’s plan, claiming it was a change to the party’s policy of keeping open the prospect of a second referendum if Labour couldn’t force a general election.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer insisted the move by Corbyn did not take the option of a People’s Vote off the table.

In his letter to Mrs May, the Labour leader set out five demands:

- A permanent customs union to deliver frictionless trade and help avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland

- Close alignment with the single market, including shared institutions and obligations

- Alignment on rights and protections so that UK standards keep pace with those across Europe as a minimum

- Participation in EU agencies and funding programmes,

- Unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases.

On a visit to Worcester, Corbyn said: “Half of our trade is with Europe. A lot of our manufacturing industries are very frightened, very worried at the moment that on March 29 there’ll be a cliff edge.

“There cannot be a cliff edge. We will do everything we can in Parliament to prevent this cliff-edge exit.”

But Smith, who stood against Corbyn in 2016, said he was considering his future in the party.

“I think it’s something that I and lots of other people are considering right now,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“At the moment I may be asked by the Labour Party to row in behind a policy decision that they know, and the government knows, is going to make the people I represent poorer and - more fundamentally actually - is at odds with the internationalist, social democratic values I believe in.”

Prominent pro-EU MP Chuka Umunna said the position was “totally demoralising”.

He said: “This is not opposition, it is the facilitation of a deal which will make this country poorer.”

He added: “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.”

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner defended the shift in policy away from the six tests Labour originally set for a Brexit deal, saying the offer was made “in a spirit of co-operation and compromise”.

“It’s not about tests now,” he said. “What we are doing is saying we believe that these are the options that are available that would actually secure a majority in the House of Commons.”

Starmer said the letter “sets out in robust terms that the prime minister must abandon her Brexit red lines”.

“It does not take the option of a public vote off the table.”

Matthew Pennycook, a member of Starmer’s frontbench shadow Brexit team, said if May did not accept Labour’s terms “we must move to support a public vote”.

There were “no other credible options left” to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Downing Street confirmed that Corbyn’s letter had been received, and a spokeswoman added: “We will reply in due course. Our positions on many of the issues in the letter are well known. Our position on the backstop has not changed.”

The spokeswoman said that no further meeting between May and the Labour leader to discuss Brexit had been scheduled, but added that “her door is open”.

May’s effective deputy prime minister, David Lidington, said the Labour plan for a customs union with a say in EU trade deals was “wishful thinking”.

In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman declined to discuss Corbyn’s proposals, saying only: “Our interlocutor is Her Majesty’s Government and the prime minister.”

Yesterday European Commission president Donald Tusk highlighted Corbyn’s “pro-Brexit stance” and said “there is no political force and no effective leadership for Remain”.

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