Apparently striving to undermine trust in her word further still, Theresa May has decided not to request a long Article 50 extension from the EU but merely a short one. We don’t yet know the exact wording of her letter to Donald Tusk, but it is expected that she’ll be asking for a few months’ delay at most, allowing the UK to avoid European parliamentary elections – and, more importantly, allowing the Prime Minister to cling on to office just a little longer.
“In the absence of a deal, seeking such a short and, critically, one-off extension would be downright reckless and completely at odds with the position this House adopted only last night, making a no-deal scenario far more rather than less likely.” Not the words of Jeremy Corbyn, or any backbencher – this is what de facto deputy PM David Lidington said last week.
Keir Starmer has also summed up the situation well: May is “desperate to impose a binary choice between her deal and no deal – despite parliament clearly ruling out both of those options last week”. This is the PM, as usual, prioritising Tory party unity and her staying in post over making actual progress with Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, is looking to compromise. Over many months, Labour consistently briefed that ‘Norway Plus’ or any model based on single market membership would be pointless and turn the UK into a vassal state. (The key point being freedom of movement – a serious bone of contention between the Labour leadership and the membership that has not been given much attention.) But, as explored in one of these emails a few weeks ago, it looks like the Common Market 2.0 plan developed by Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell along with Nick Boles and other Tories is gaining traction.
Yesterday, the Labour leader met with the CM2.0 campaigners and had a discussion described as “very positive and constructive” (Powell) and “positive and detailed” (Labour spokesperson). This morning, Kinnock told a press conference that the group hopes “to secure the Labour whip for a backbench-driven” piece of legislation, while Powell estimated – based on talks with MPs across the House – that the arrangement could win a “sizeable parliamentary majority”.
Conservative backbenchers who favour a no deal outcome are more positive today: they reckon asking for a short extension makes it easier to force the UK into leaving without an agreement. But it seems as if Corbyn is doing what May refuses to do, by opening up the party to alternatives from the Kyle/Wilson confirmatory ballot idea to Common Market 2.0. Critics might doubt the sincerity of claims that Labour is listening to all options, but only one of the main party leaders is making an effort to actually find a Commons majority amid the Brexit chaos. It may well be thanks to the Labour leader’s moves that ‘no deal’-ers are left sorely disappointed.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.