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8 February 2019

How Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit demands have caused yet more conflict in the Labour Party

The Labour leader’s proposals appear to have pleased everybody but Labour.

By Stephen Bush

Good news for Jeremy Corbyn! His Brexit proposals have been welcomed by Donald Tusk, several members of the European Parliament and enough soft Brexiteers – including Stephen Hammond, a sitting minister – to demonstrate that his five Brexit demands could form the basis of an accord with both the EU and command a majority in parliament.

Bad news for Jeremy Corbyn! The reaction to his proposals within the Labour Party is a mixed one. Clive Lewis, the Corbynite MP who quit the frontbench once to vote against triggering Article 50, has hinted he would do so again if the party whips support to back Brexit. Owen Smith, former leadership candidate, has said that he would find it hard to remain within the Labour Party, much to the surprise even of his close allies. And Corbyn’s proposals have been criticised by some, but not all, of the Labour MPs backing the People’s Vote campaign.

Keir Starmer has insisted that the option of a second vote remains a real one – and that Corbyn’s proposals are merely a list of what May must do to secure a Brexit deal, while Matthew Pennycook, one of his junior ministers, has insisted that a public vote is the fall back option should the five demands not be met.

The reason why European politicians are welcoming and some Labour’s second referendumers are criticising Corbyn’s five demands are the same: they are credible proposals that can be met by the European Union and have a serious prospect of delivering a Brexit majority in the House of Commons.

Added to that, you have the added subplot of a looming Labour split. Four of the MPs widely considered by Labour MPs to be planning an imminent split have publicly criticised the accord.

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I said yesterday that Corbyn’s demands, like May’s Chequers proposals, represented the point where the Labour leader had made a decisive choice on which risk he was going to take, and he had chosen to risk alienating Remainers by explicitly setting out his preferred outcome and a serious path to it, just as May chose with her Chequers proposals to choose market access over regulatory freedom.

Of course, one consequence of May’s choice was the loss of several ministers from her cabinet and frontbench. It would be highly surprising if Corbyn’s choice didn’t have the same consequence – but it would also be a surprise if, like May, his leadership didn’t survive the fallout unscathed.