In a big step towards Labour backing a Brexit deal, Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Prime Minister to issue five demands. In his letter, the opposition leader says Labour will support Theresa May’s deal if changes are made to include customs union membership and single market alignment, plus agreements on EU rights, agencies and security arrangements. These come under the political declaration, i.e. the non-binding part of the divorce deal that sets out UK’s future relationship with the EU, so it has been specified that the commitments would have to be enshrined in law. Read the demands and letter in full here.
While this development makes Labour’s detailed criticisms of the legally-binding text in the withdrawal agreement look a little odd in retrospect, ultimately it comes as no surprise to anyone who has been listening to Corbyn over the last few months. He has repeatedly made clear that he wants a deal to get through parliament. But this letter puts it in black-and-white: Labour will offer official support to a revised Brexit deal put forward by the Tory government.
Corbyn’s demands have provoked furious reactions from Remainer Labour activists and MPs, who contend that the letter goes against conference policy by setting the bar too low. They argue “single market alignment” doesn’t amount to the “full participation” prescribed by the composite motion. And those critics have fresh ammunition too, as a leaked report from the (party-affiliated, Corbyn-backing) TSSA union says Labour could lose 45 seats if it supports Brexit. The briefing claims the party would only lose 11 seats by opposing Brexit, and could even gain a handful by being more outspoken against it. This is just one bit of research, however, so don’t expect it to seriously affect the leadership’s thinking.
Although Barry Gardiner told Radio 4 this morning that “it’s not about tests now”, it has been denied that Keir Starmer’s six tests for any Brexit deal have been abandoned. Rather, these new stipulations are designed to be credible and relevant to the current situation. The differences between the two are interesting nonetheless. Corbyn’s list makes no mention of the backstop or of free movement, which I would suggest means a more relaxed approach towards both and therefore indicates that Keir Starmer was involved in shaping the new demands, as has been briefed.
The case in favour of the five demands sees Theresa May’s chances of either replacing the backstop or securing a time-limit/unilateral withdrawal ability as non-existent. Corbyn’s letter quashes the notion that Labour wants to “frustrate” Brexit and applies further pressure on the government to implement a soft exit. This is the choice that the Prime Minister has faced since the start: leave with no deal and be responsible for chaos, or pivot to Labour’s plan. Both options seem unbelievable. Either way, the Tories split. That seems like a win-win, but Corbyn’s proposal – which looks a lot like the unhappy compromise of ‘Norway Plus’ – does leave many on the left, from Lexiteers to People’s Vote campaigners, wondering ‘what’s the point?’.
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