What the latest Corbyn-May meeting means for Brexit

Sienna Rodgers

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May met in parliament to discuss Brexit for an hour this evening, as the government confirmed that the withdrawal agreement bill would be brought forward in June.

Following the meeting, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We will… be bringing forward the withdrawal agreement bill in the week beginning the 3rd June. It is imperative we do so then if the UK is to leave the EU before the summer parliamentary recess.

“Talks this evening between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were both useful and constructive. Tomorrow talks will continue at an official level as we seek the stable majority in parliament that will ensure the safe passage of the withdrawal agreement bill and the UK’s swift exit from the EU.”

Shortly afterwards, a Labour spokesperson commented: “The Labour leader set out the shadow cabinet’s concerns about the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver on any compromise agreement.

“In particular he raised doubts over the credibility of government commitments, following statements by Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers seeking to replace the Prime Minister.

“Jeremy Corbyn made clear the need for further movement from the government, including on entrenchment of any commitments. The Prime Minister’s team agreed to bring back documentation and further proposals tomorrow.”

The Prime Minister was issued a further reminder of Tory opposition to a permanent customs union today, when senior Conservative MPs wrote a letter setting out their objections to such a deal, while Corbyn has also come under pressure from his own side to end the cross-party Brexit talks.

Although the two main leaders are themselves not far apart on Brexit, parliamentarians from their respective parties are increasingly concerned about the electoral consequences and willing to publicly voice such anxieties.

Tories are worried about The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage, which is currently polling way ahead of every other party in European election voting intentions. The pressure has given a boost to ‘hard’ Brexit views among Conservatives.

Meanwhile, many Labour MPs are worried about Remain-supporting voters switching to anti-Brexit parties. Keir Starmer and Tom Watson have estimated that up to 150 Labour MPs would refuse to vote for a Brexit deal that did not have another referendum attached.

It is understood that, in the meeting with May tonight, Corbyn rejected any suggestion that Labour would support the withdrawal agreement bill without prior agreement. This might suggest that the Prime Minister would be taking a significant risk by introducing the key legislation.

However, the Spectator has reported tonight: “Theresa May’s official spokesman hinted that the chances of passing the EU withdrawal agreement bill without Labour support were increasing.”

Alternatively, there is the possibility that Labour could amend the bill to its satisfaction – adding customs union membership, close relationship with the single market, and other details that would allow the deal to meet Corbyn’s five demands on which the ongoing negotiations have been based.

Whether this has a chance of success depends on whether enough MPs would be willing to vote for Labour’s Brexit plan without it being subject to another referendum. Such a scenario could see Labour’s ‘customs union etc’ amendment pass, a ‘public vote’ amendment fall and then the whole bill rejected as a result.

With cross-party negotiations set to fail, relying on either Conservative or Labour votes in the Commons to get the WAB through is unlikely to produce a positive outcome for the Prime Minister. A Tory leadership race could then take place over the summer.

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