Could Labour really reach a Brexit compromise with Theresa May’s government?

Some close to Corbyn say that the balance of risks points heavily towards reaching an accord to deliver Brexit, and moving onto domestic issues.

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Could Labour and the government reach a Brexit compromise after all? Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the Shadow Cabinet’s most committed opponents of a second referendum, has suggested that the party could reach an accord with the Conservatives – without a fresh public vote attached.

It comes ahead of a crunch meeting of Labour’s ruling national executive committee, which will decide whether the party’s platform for the coming European elections includes a second referendum platform or not. The NEC is finely balanced and it could come down to whether one of the NEC members who is vocally pro-second referendum and pro-Corbyn can be persuaded simply not to turn up on the day. 

It highlights what is probably the oddest part of the United Kingdom’s Brexit deadlock. That is that Parliament is full of Brexiteers who will do anything to get Brexit except vote for it, and the country is full of people who will do anything to get Labour to back a second referendum – except vote for another party.

As a result, it is Labour opponents of a second referendum who have the winds at their backs at the moment. The argument they make runs like this: given Change UK’s present difficulties, given the enduring willingness of Remain voters to stick with the Labour party, given Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity with Labour Leavers, the balance of risks points heavily towards reaching an accord to deliver Brexit and moving onto domestic issues, and away from backing a fresh vote on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU.

That argument might well carry the day at Labour’s national executive committee. But it’s far from clear that it will ever carry the day among enough Labour MPs to make up for that undertow of pro-Brexit MPs who won’t vote for Brexit, and the much larger group of Conservative MPs who oppose continued membership of a customs union and/or any Brexit deal signed off by Corbyn. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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