11 Feb 2019

Theresa May – No Brexit high noon this week

Tumbleweed is floating past Westminster this week. The crunch votes on Thursday have had the life crunched out of them. No 10 looks like it will sign up to another crunch date, two weeks hence, and that will be enough to stop the Cooper/Boles amendment coming back this week. Theresa May could announce the new date in the diary when she speaks to MPs in a statement tomorrow.

MPs are giving her time for “negotiation” though one of those MPs, former minister Nick Boles, acknowledged that most of the negotiating seemed to be happening within the Tory Party still.

That said, a delegation of Labour MPs met Theresa May in her Commons office this lunchtime. Caroline Flint, Jon Cruddas and Gareth Snell were amongst those who saw the PM. They represent a subset of the Labour MPs with strong Leave constituencies group, this cohort made up of MPs with strong supply chain sensitive manufacturing concerns in their seats.

Some of the delegation reacted badly to Theresa May’s slapdown (in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn published by No 10 overnight) of the idea of being in a full-blown Customs Union after Brexit. They want to be able to reassure voters in their seats that they haven’t just backed a blind Brexit or one that threatens manufacturing jobs. Theresa May’s letter, the argument runs, made their job more difficult and she needs to correct that impression very soon. Listen out for wooing messages in the Commons chamber tomorrow.

Making these Labour MPs’ potential support for the government deal easier is the Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey. His engagement with Downing Street and the implied readiness to consider backing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, the logic works, protects Labour MPs who are thinking of doing the same thing should some Momentum pro-Remainer activists try to rise up against them.

Where does Jeremy Corbyn’s initial letter to Theresa May fit into all this?

Allies of the Labour leader acknowledge he could be the beneficiary of a phalanx of Labour MPs who help Theresa May over the line with her Brexit deal in a cliff edge vote in March. It sorts Brexit but leaves none of his fingerprints at the scene of the incident. But, one ally says, the real focus in the leadership team has been repairing the sense that Mr Corbyn isn’t engaged in the Brexit process. Allies say voters have seen him as a spectator at Brexit events, not shaping things. That, some around Mr Corbyn think, has contributed to tumbling personal poll ratings. They hope the profile boost around the letters will help to arrest this.

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