Jeremy Corbyn sets out Labour offer to May on Brexit

Written by Matt Foster on 7 February 2019 in News

In a letter to Theresa May Jeremy Corbyn sets out the terms under which Labour will back her Brexit deal

Jeremy Corbyn - PA

Jeremy Corbyn has written to Theresa May setting out the terms under which Labour would back her Brexit deal.

As the Prime Minister headed to Brussels to try and secure last-minute changes to the agreement, the Labour leader sent her a surprise letter demanding she ditch her negotiating "red lines".

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

But it came as a stark poll warned that the Labour leader could shed support if he swings the party behind May's agreement - while anti-Brexit MPs on Corbyn's own side accused the leader of enabling "a deal which will make this country poorer".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Corbyn said May must go further than "simply seeking modifications to the existing backstop", the controversial part of her deal that is designed to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister is heading to Brussels today to urge the EU to reverse its longstanding opposition to altering the arrangement, which would see the UK remaining in a customs union until an alternative way of maintaining the open border is found.

Corbyn instead called on the Government to "change its negotiating red lines and seek significant changes to the Political Declaration to provide clarity on our future relationship and deliver a closer economic relationship with the EU".

"That would also ensure that any backstop would be far less likely to be invoked," he adds.

Spelling out five changes Labour wants to see, Corbyn called for a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union" - including alignment with the union customs code and a common external tariff - as well as close alignment with the EU's Single Market.

"This should be underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, with clear arrangements for dispute resolution," he said.

The Labour leader also called for guarantees that the UK's rights and protections will continue to "keep pace with evolving standards across European as a minimum".

He meanwhile urged "clear" commitments that the UK will continue to take part in key EU agencies and funding programmes in areas including "the environment, education, and industrial regulation", and demands "unambiguous" assurances that Britain will have access to security

Corbyn said the Prime Minister should write those new negotiating objectives into law "to provide certainty for businesses and a clear framework for our future relationship".

And in a fresh sign Labour could be ready to support an extension to Article 50, delaying Britain's March 29 departure date, Corbyn said: "Following last week’s rejection by the House of Commons of ‘no deal’, all necessary steps must be taken to avoid such an outcome."

He concluded: "My colleagues and I look forward to discussing these proposals with you further, in the constructive manner in which they are intended, with the aim of securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together."

But the letter to the Prime Minister came as a leaked report prepared for pro-Corbyn pressure group Momentum revealed strong opposition among Labour supporters to backing Mrs May's deal.

The study by the TSSA union - which is affiliated to Labour - warned that enabling Brexit would be more damaging to Labour's electoral fortunes than the Iraq war.

Corbyn's letter also drew swift condemnation from some Labour MPs, with Chuka Umunna branding the hint that the party could support a changed deal a "complete joke".

In a series of angry tweets, the pro-Remain Streatham MP - who is backing a second referendum - 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."

He went on: "I hate to think what all those young voters who flocked to the party for the first time in 2017 will make of this. Vote Labour, get a Tory Brexit. They will feel they have been sold down the river.

"And let’s not forget - the “political declaration” is a declaration of aspiration. By the time the future trading relationship is finalised May will be long gone, new EU leaders will be in place and so on."

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