The Corbyn Gambit
After a lengthy and apparently fractious cabinet meeting, Theresa May made an invitation to the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to enter into talks with her in a bid to resolve the Brexit impasse. The move is not without risk since it has incensed the ERG faction of her party, other prominent Tories and the DUP – on the whole, not a bad day’s work!
This is not the first time that May has made overtures to Labour, but in the past, her “red lines” have been inviolable and Labour preferences for “a” customs union and much tighter alignment with the single market have fallen on deaf ears. The fact that this move is being made now presumably means that May realises she will not be able to get the ERG and DUP to back her existing withdrawal agreement and that Brexit of any form can only be delivered with Labour backing. Such a move, if it came off, may lead to a schism in the ruling Conservative party.
Corbyn has mastered the art of fence straddling since the referendum, assiduously trying to keep Brexit minded MPs and constituencies on-side whilst persuading a remain minded movement that “everything remains on the table”, including a further referendum/confirmatory referendum. Many of his critics accuse him of being the “hand maiden” to a Tory Brexit by not taking a firmer pro-remain line. Corbyn himself is a life-long Eurosceptic, but has steadfastly claimed that he both campaigned for remain and voted for it personally in 2016.
Corbyn has acknowledged the olive branch that May has offered, stating he was “very happy” to take part in talks: “We will meet the prime minister. We recognise that she has made a move.”
Labour’s own Brexit plans have been rejected by the commons and an indicative vote for “a” customs union was narrowly rejected. There is no way to predict what will happen next. It is understood that some in the cabinet favoured leaving the EU with no deal rather than find a compromise with Mr Corbyn. It has become accepted Labour policy that any deal emerging from parliament should require popular approval in a confirmatory referendum (presumably, against the choice of remaining in the EU).
May has suggested that if an agreement cannot be found that both sides should agree to be bound by what parliament wishes (if anybody can find out). The UK has until tomorrow week to make its plans clear to the EU or risk crashing out with no deal on 12/4/19.