Corbyn Brexit Offer Gives Labour MPs Space to Back May Deal

Robert Hutton and Thomas Penny
Corbyn Brexit Offer Gives Labour MPs Space to Back May Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Jeremy Corbyn is opening up a possible path for Prime Minister Theresa May to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. It’s just not the one he says it is.

The opposition Labour leader’s offer to support May if she shifted in his direction on Brexit is one she can’t take up and he doesn’t want her to; the premier would outrage her Conservative Party and Corbyn would be forced to support a deal he’d rather be free to criticize. But it’s the latest sign he wouldn’t mind greatly if she borrows his lawmakers to get Brexit done.

When 14 Labour members of Parliament voted with the government -- rather than with Corbyn -- against moves to delay Brexit in the absence of a deal last month, there were no discernible consequences for the rebels in public or private. The same was true for the eight members of Corbyn’s frontbench team who abstained despite being obliged to support his positions.

One Labour lawmaker said that, having voted against May’s Brexit deal when it was first brought to Parliament and then against her government in a confidence vote, they’d done their party duty and could now focus on the wishes of voters in their district for the U.K. to leave the EU with a deal.

The sense that Labour’s leadership would turn a blind eye to another rebellion has been bolstered by recently released videos of Corbyn attacking the EU before he was party leader. His offer to work with May on Brexit, three weeks after he refused even to meet her, makes it much easier for other Labour MPs to vote for her deal, or to simply abstain.

The strategy is not risk-free for Corbyn, as the backlash from pro-EU Labour MPs on Thursday showed. They want a second Brexit referendum, and Corbyn wrote to reassure them his letter to May doesn’t take a plebiscite off the table.

Matthew Pennycook, deputy to the party’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, went further, tweeting that if May doesn’t agree to Labour’s demands the party should pivot to supporting a second referendum. There are “no other credible options,” he wrote, demonstrating the tensions at the top of the party.

For May, the arithmetic in Parliament means she still can’t get her deal through without bringing the vast bulk of Tories with her. But Corbyn’s approach does make it less daunting.

(Updates with Pennycook comment in seventh paragraph.)

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