Theresa May’s statement on Tuesday evening represented a significant shift in her Brexit approach, moving away from the prospect of a no-deal split and bringing opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn into the equation.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The plan will dismay the hardline Brexiteers in her own party, who for so long have opposed her Withdrawal Agreement — and may now, as a result, lose the hard Brexit they crave.
All eyes now shift to Corbyn, the Labour leader whose next move could shape the future of Brexit. The Prime Minister said she would attempt to forge an agreement with Corbyn that would then be put to the House of Commons.
Corbyn said his guiding principle would be to “avoid the dangers of crashing out” of the EU without a deal. Labour would “hold in reserve” the option of calling a no-confidence motion in May’s government, which could trigger a general election if it were successful. He said he would make the move if the government “proves it is incapable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons.”
But, what will Corbyn demand in his talks with May?
A customs union: Labour party policy favors a customs union with the EU and “close alignment” to the single market. A motion to add a customs union to May’s Brexit deal came the closest to achieving a majority in the Commons during the first two rounds of indicative votes this week. If Labour compromised its demand for single market alignment, her deal could get over the line.
Common Market 2.0: This so-called “Norway Plus” model was also backed by Labour in Monday’s indicative votes, and comes closest to Labour’s own alternative Brexit plan. But it calls for the UK to stay in the Single Market, which would likely be unpalatable to May.
A second referendum: Corbyn took a long time to come around to the prospect of a second vote, but ultimately supported a plan from one of his backbenchers for a confirmatory vote on any deal May gets through Parliament. Could May accept a combination of a customs union plus a confirmatory referendum? It would be a huge move for her.