Pro-EU Labour MPs in backlash as Jeremy Corbyn offers Theresa May Brexit deal olive branch

Posted On: 
7th February 2019

Anti-Brexit Labour MPs have reacted with fury after Jeremy Corbyn set out the terms under which his party could back Theresa May's EU deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has set out five demands he wants the Prime Minister to meet.
Credit: 
PA

The Labour leader last night sent the Prime Minister a surprise letter urging her to shift her negotiating "red lines" to secure a "sensible agreement".

Significantly, none of the demands would require Mrs May to re-open the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement, something the EU has repeatedly ruled out.

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The letter also makes no mention of an earlier call for a deal that secures the "exact same benefits" as EU membership as it presses for a permanent customs union, workers' rights protectins and close alignment with the single market.

But the move triggered a backlash from some pro-EU Labour MPs, who accused Mr Corbyn of opening the door to a "right-wing" Brexit.

Owen Smith, who is instead urging the leadership to back a second EU referendum, said the letter "significantly weakens Labour’s position on Brexit".

He told PoliticsHome: "These demands are both weaker than the six tests we had previously used to measure the damage Brexit will do Britain, and also ignore the People’s Vote policy we agreed at Conference.

"It’s also worrying that the letter implies we will accept Tory promises on a future customs union being written into the non-binding Political Declaration and on workers rights being guaranteed in a Tory bill.

"The old Jeremy Corbyn would have told you those pledges won’t be worth the paper they’re written on. Brexit is a right-wing, ideological project and Labour should be opposing it."

One MP told PoliticsHome that Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer should consider his position over the gambit.

“Keir Starmer is turning into the scarlet pimpernel," they said.

"His disappearance at this time shows he is either being sidelined by Corbyn or doesn’t agree with the Labour leadership's shambolic handling of Brexit.

"Whatever the reason he should stand up for his principles, Labour members and Labour supporters and resign. The country is crying out for sensible leadership and we are being badly let down.

Sources close to the Shadow Brexit Secretary - a key architect of Labour's earlier 'six tests' on Brexit - insisted that he had been involved in the latest move, and said the party was not abandoning its earlier pledges.

But former frontbencher Chuka Umunna meanwhile unleashed an angry volley of tweets and said: "This is not Opposition, it is the facilitation of a deal which will make this country poorer.

"A strong, coherent Labour alternative to this shabby, Tory Brexit is absent - it has been since this Parliament began."

'UNAMBIGUOUS AND DELIVERABLE'

Some MPs on the Labour benches have welcomed the signal that Mr Corbyn could be willing to get behind Mrs May's deal if she significantly shifts her stance on Britain's future relationship with the EU, however.

Stephen Kinnock, who has been pushing for a 'Common Market 2.0' Norway-style soft Brexit, said of the letter: "This can break the deadlock."

Chris Williamson, a Corbyn-loyalist, meanwhile told PoliticsHome the move "makes sense" and urged his colleagues to focus on Britain's post-Brexit future.

"It's unambiguous and deliverable," he said of the letter.

"I campaigned for Remain but I accept the outcome of the referendum.

"I profoundly disagree with those Labour MPs who are trying to sabotage Brexit.

"They should put their efforts into securing a general election and making the case for a Labour government that will deliver a fiscal stimulus to address any impact on the economy of leaving the EU."

Another Labour MP downplayed the significance of the offer from their party's leader, saying "everyone is just restating their own position".

And they argued that the move would still allow Labour to push for a second referendum because Theresa May was likely to reject Mr Corbyn's offer to avoid enraging her own Brexiteers.

Shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook meanwhile tweeted that Labour would push for a second EU referendum unless Theresa May accepted the proposals in full.