Jeremy Corbyn’s overnight letter to the Prime Minister is a big strategic move. It is a meaningful attempt to end the Brexit impasse, putting meat on the bones of a policy shift that moves Labour’s position on, and again tries to reach out across the party divide to stop a disastrous no deal Brexit whilst ensuring that we protect jobs, the economy, and the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy.
I know Jeremy’s intervention has the support of many Labour colleagues in parliament who realise that we all have to come together and compromise if we’re to seal the deal and avoid crashing out of the EU on 29th March. The majority of Labour MPs on the front and backbenches want to ensure we respect the referendum result, ending political union whilst keeping close economic ties to the EU. That’s the model I set out with Rob Halfon MP, supported by the Norway Plus group of MPs, in our Common Market 2.0 pamphlet.
This is all in line with Labour’s conference policy of working to find a deal and keeping all options on the table. It’s clear from recent parliamentary votes that there is no support for no deal, and there is no majority for extending Article 50 without good reason, let alone for a second referendum. Parliament must come together around what it can agree on and put the country first. We all have to move past rigid labels and absolute positions, and accept the parliamentary arithmetic for what it is.
That’s why language of a “Tory Brexit” is so unhelpful, damaging our party and our future electoral prospects. It pushes division over trying to bring the country together once we leave the political institution of the EU. Voters of all political persuasions and none voted Leave, and whilst that is uncomfortable for some in our party, it is the reality and a viewpoint we should respect. The deal that we finally achieve will not be Theresa May’s – it’s clear she can’t command a majority for her plan in parliament as it stands.
That’s why Jeremy Corbyn’s five key issues are so important. They could form the basis of a cross-party deal – based on Common Market 2.0, which ensures a future relationship with Europe that the 48% and the 52% could live with. A withdrawal agreement that ensures we leave the EU, and an amended political declaration that lays the framework for a new strong, positive relationship with Europe including a comprehensive customs union to deliver frictionless trade needed by our businesses and workers, while ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic; close alignment to the single market and the benefits this brings; alongside alignment on rights and protections, participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, and a strong European security arrangement.
The ball is now in Theresa May’s court. For too long, she has pandered to the hard-right Eurosceptic wing of her own party, acting as a hostage to the ERG. No deal except no deal will make them happy. There is also a choice for advocates of a second referendum that is unlikely to happen: shape a softer Brexit now with a close relationship with the EU that protects communities, or continue down the path to a hard Brexit and no deal.
Jeremy has again reached out to the Prime Minister, just as he did during his Labour conference speech and afterwards. This gives her the chance to work in the national interest to deliver the referendum result. Politics is often played out in primary colours but real life isn’t like that. If we’re to solve the Brexit impasse, people on both sides need to stop talking in primary colours – that one thing is either all good and the other is all bad – and accept that there are many shades of grey here.
Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central.