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May’s appeal to Corbyn is a sign of desperation

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 10.07.2017

What a difference half a year makes. In January, the Daily Mail was hailing the “steel of the new Iron Lady”. In July, Theresa May has lost her majority, and is reduced to pleading for support from Labour, while her own MPs call for her to resign. Under other circumstances, her self-induced downfall might have been darkly amusing. As it is, it leaves Britain up the creek without a paddle. An appeal for Labour’s help is unlikely to see us safely to shore.

Lacking a majority, and forced to rely on the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party, May cannot rely on her party to force through her destructive Brexit vision. If she can rally the support of the Labour party – aided and abetted by its pro-Brexit leader Jeremy Corbyn – then she may be able to deliver it, but that is a very big ‘if’.

May will say tomorrow that opposition parties have a duty to “contribute, not just criticise”, inviting Labour in from the cold on Brexit policy. Even by the standards of a premier who has at times u-turned so rapidly as to resemble a spinning top, this is a staggering change in course. It will scarcely yield the desired results.

Corbyn is unlikely to want to work with the Conservatives. He may see May’s words as an attempt to sow dissent within his party, and will also hold principled objections to working with her. In addition to these, he is not immune to the charms of realpolitik and surely recognises that the logical outcome of parliamentary gridlock is a second election – with Labour riding high in the polls.

If this were not true, the unfortunate reality would still be that Corbyn cannot guarantee his party’s votes. He has already faced a rebellion by 49 MPs during the Queen’s Speech, and with real stakes to play for, more may be tempted to defy his leadership. Whatever troops he does bring with him may not be enough if May’s rank and file feel emboldened to vote against their own leader.

This analysis might seem to point towards a soft Brexit consensus. But May has shown no sign of relenting on her goals – she will state in her speech that she is “convinced that the path I set out… remains the right one”. Corbyn also wants to leave the single market, leaving little room for any “soft” solution. From this position, the most likely outcome is another election – and yet more precious negotiating time slipping away.

In turn, this may well mean that if we don’t get a hard Brexit by design, we may get one by default. Stuck in a gridlocked parliament, unable to reach consensus by the close of play, we could wake up on March 29, 2019, to find ourselves out of the EU, and out of luck.

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Edited by Quentin Peel