Labour splits deepening over Jeremy Corbyn warning his MPs not to talk to government on Brexit

Posted On: 
18th January 2019

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a mounting backlash over his decision to urge Labour MPs not to hold Brexit negotiations with the Government.

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Remain during the EU referendum.
PA Images

Some backbenchers have openly defied the Labour leader after he emailed them to say they should follow his lead and snub talks with senior ministers.

Mr Corbyn has turned down the offer of discussions with Theresa May on how to break the Commons deadlock unless she agrees to take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit "off the table".

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But former Labour ministers Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper both held talks with David Lidington, the de facto deputy Prime Minister, in the Cabinet Office yesterday.

PoliticsHome understands that Chuka Umunna has also held meetings with ministers, while other Labour MPs are also willing to meet with the Government to discuss options on the way ahead.

In his email to Labour MPs, Mr Corbyn said: "The Prime Minister has offered to open talks with opposition parties, however I have been absolutely clear that any starting point for talks about breaking the Brexit deadlock must be on the provision that the threat of a disastrous 'no deal' outcome is ruled out. This is a position that has now been adopted by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

"I urge colleagues to respect that condition and refrain from engagement with the Government until 'no deal' is taken off the table."

But Labour backbencher Mike Gapes, a long-standing critic of Mr Corbyn, said: "Jeremy Corbyn has been quite happy in the past to talk to Hamas, Hezobollah... I find it extraordinary he's not prepared to go and meet the Prime Minister."

In a letter to Mr Corbyn, Mrs May said ruling out a no-deal Brexit was "impossible" and criticised the Labour for blocking his MPs from meeting her.

She said: "You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the Government?

"My door remains open to a meeting without preconditions so that we, as Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, can talk and see if we can begin to find a way forward for our country on Brexit. I sincerely urge you to accept."

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Mr Corbyn has been warned he faces a wave of resignations if Labour ends up supporting a second referendum.

Some frontbenchers in Leave-voting seats have said they will have no option but to quit if the party comes out for a so-called "People's Vote".

One shadow minister said: "I would feel deeply uncomfortable about going into a people’s vote at this stage. Given all the commitments that we made in the general election, we have to carry them out. This concept of blocking Brexit is wrong and would break a link with millions of our traditional voters who expect us to keep our word."

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown last night called for Article 50 to be extended and for a series of "citizens' assemblies" to be held to come up with a solution to the Brexit impasse.

Speaking in Edinburgh, he said: "We must do now what we should and could have been doing for the past two-and-a-half years - engage our citizens in public hearings to explore problems and find solutions that parliamentary procedures have totally failed to do.

"So, I propose we negotiate with Europe to extend Article 50 for one year not as a delaying tactic but for a purpose - that we agree, and the European Union accepts, a unique democratic innovation — the convening of nationwide citizens‘ assemblies."