Jeremy Corbyn agrees to meet Theresa May for Brexit talks

The Labour leader said he would make the case for a deal that protected jobs and living standards. A cross-party agreement is still the only surefire way to prevent no-deal.

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Two weeks after turning her down, Jeremy Corbyn has finally taken Theresa May up on her invitation to Brexit talks.

Addressing the Commons after MPs voted to direct the government to renegotiate the Irish backstop and rejected no-deal without endorsing Yvette Cooper’s plan to extend Article 50, the Labour leader said he was willing to meet the prime minister and make the case for a Brexit that protected jobs, living standards and workers’ rights (read: a permanent customs union).

Corbyn has done so despite neither May nor MPs moving to “take no-deal off the table” in any meaningful way, which was the the precondition he set out after the defeat of the withdrawal agreement earlier this month.

But with the hard deadline of 29 March still in place and the Conservatives and DUP having given the prime minister a mandate to demand something the EU27 will not offer – and with it engineer a no-deal scenario – the initiation of face-to-face talks between the Labour leadership and Downing Street reflects a blunt and enduring truth of parliamentary arithmetic. The only guarantee of avoiding a no-deal Brexit comes with approving a negotiated Brexit, and the only negotiated Brexit that can pass parliament will have to be one that is acceptable to the Labour leadership and a majority of its MPs.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.