26 Sep 2018

What’s behind Corbyn’s Brexit offer?

Was Jeremy Corbyn in his Conference speech throwing an olive branch to Theresa May as she wanders the corridors of the United Nations in New York?

He told Labour delegates that he was ready to support Theresa May on Brexit if she backed a Customs Union and no hard border in Northern Ireland.

He also stipulated that workers’ rights and environmental rules would have to stay the same. That is a list which at first glance looks a lot like where Theresa May could end up (albeit with a Customs Union camouflaged).

The internal politics of the Labour Party has played a role in this. Senior Labour sources insist that the party is still pretty certain to call on Labour MPs to vote down the PM’s deal if it comes before the Commons.

But some voices have argued that it’s good tactics to look like you seriously considered voting for the deal and didn’t rule it out for self-serving reasons early in the process. There have also been noises that the Party needs to maintain a bit of genuine flexibility just in case Theresa May lurches to a much more Labour-friendly policy.

But what really changed to get this this late addition inserted into the Corbyn speech is that the leadership decided it had to do a bit of a tactical shift in language to calm down very angry MPs from the North of England with pro-Brexit voting constituencies.

They were badgering the leadership to pull back from the message from Sir Keir Starmer in his ad-libbed line to Conference yesterday saying that Remain could be on a ballot paper for a future referendum on the EU.

While Jeremy Corbyn was outlining a range of goodies to crash the years of austerity to a mighty close, Theresa May chose today to remind US CEOs in New York of her party’s manifesto promise to offer the lowest corporation tax in the G20.

Some Tory MPs will think that looks like a meagre voter retail offer and will sharpen their anxiety about the massive retail gap between the two main parties’ offers to voters.

Brexit featured strongly in a Bloomberg Q-and-A session in New York this morning. The Prime Minister was asked by Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, about how “things could really go off” over Brexit.

He wanted to know “how bad could things get” as business faces “daunting risk management”. In her reply, Theresa May said she understood the “uncertainty” that was bothering business.

She went on to say in the next answer: “Regardless of what our relationship with the EU will be like in the future … some of the key elements of the UK that make it a great place to invest in and do business in aren’t going to change post-Brexit.” Presumably some of those elements will.

There is some very interesting detail in the European Commission document seen by Reuters.

It goes into how the “Common Rule Book” approach of Theresa May’s Chequers plan offends the EU27 not only on the grounds of ignoring the benefits of “embedded services” in goods production but also how the government’s approach tries to fly free of EU rules on production method standards and conform only on product standards.

Theresa May in New York this morning referred again to what No. 10 feels are the encouraging noises coming from some EU27 leaders since Salzburg.

No. 10 clearly feels there’s a rowing back from the definitive “no” that sounded like it was coming from Donald Tusk in his end of summit press conference.

That wasn’t the mood of the bilateral that Mr Tusk and Mrs May had just as the summit broke up.

But the EU27 document secured by Reuters and the slide forever pointed at in his presentations by Michel Barnier both suggest that Theresa May is going to have to make some mighty concessions at the last minute to get a deal that is the other side of the Free Trade Agreement line she suggested on the plane on the way out here that the country couldn’t cross.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog