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Analysis

Hold your horses: Corbyn-May customs fudge is not done deal

by Nick Kent | 06.05.2019

Excitable commentators are suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are close to agreeing a Brexit policy. Even if they do agree, the political obstacles to it are immense. 

With the talks between Labour and the government on a possible Brexit deal resuming tomorrow, some commentators are getting excited at the possibility of this unlikely couple agreeing on a Brexit marriage – the latest idea being a temporary customs union. The trouble is that even if they reach an agreement, there are many obstacles to it being accepted.

Corbyn is already unpopular on his own backbenches with at least 100 Labour MPs wanting him to stop equivocating and back a new referendum. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday that so many of his colleagues wanted a public vote that there “may well” have to be one. Labour MPs are extremely unlikely to vote for an agreement that delivers the Brexit they so loathe – and the latest idea isn’t even the permanent customs union that the party has been calling for.

Then there is Labour tribalism. Labour MPs just don’t like agreeing things with the Tories. And they are particularly wary of being seen to deliver a Tory Brexit. The new international development secretary’s declaration that the country needs a “national deal” on Brexit will alarm Labour MPs. Why on earth should Labour carry the political can for this Tory mess?

Rory Stewart’s upbeat talk is a reminder that what many Tories most want is to put Brexit behind them and move on. But the last thing Corbyn needs is for the Tories to reunite under a new leader with a post-Brexit agenda. Labour doesn’t want to help the Tories, it wants to keep them split.

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And if you cross the floor to the other side of the house, pro-Brexit Tory MPs don’t want a customs union with the EU because it would remove the last vestige of their vision of Brexit – the UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals in goods with non-EU countries. In all, 236 Tories voted against a customs partnership in the indicative votes. The idea of making it temporary may win over some MPs but the early signs aren’t that promising.

The biggest obstacle may be Labour’s demand for an additional safeguard: that May’s successor will not be able to overturn any agreement that she has reached with them. They call it the “Boris lock”. The trouble is, there is no way she can give such a binding undertaking.

It’s perfectly true that any Corbyn-May agreement could be included in the legislation which incorporates the withdrawal treaty into our domestic law. But legislation can be amended – and often is. And in any case, a new Conservative leader might call a general election on a mandate to scrap existing agreements and seek a new arrangement with the EU entirely. As the prime minister wrote in the Mail on Sunday this weekend:  “No parliament can bind its successor”.

Finally, to get a Corbyn-May deal over the line, given the likely size of rebellions amongst their own supporters, they may need the backing of other parties. But the SNP, Lib Dems, Change UK and others will not back a deal unless it has a confirmatory vote attached to it. Not so easy after all then.

This piece was updated on May 6 in line with news developments.

Published and promoted by Hugo Dixon on behalf of Referendum Facts Ltd., Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London SW1P 4QP

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Hold your horses: Corbyn-May customs fudge is not done deal”

  • The appalling politics just go on and on ….

    What a waste of time and energy for nothing!

    Bring on the new referendum. The rest of Europe is just waiting for the looney left and right to get through their next stupid wheeze and see it fail – predictably!