THE truth is that Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are not that far apart on Brexit.
They might use different language but what they want is really quite similar.
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn may have to split both of their parties to achieve a Brexit deal in an unlikely alliance, writes James Forsyth
But DON’T THINK that this means a Brexit deal will be done between them.
While they may not be that far apart, their parties are. A deal would require not one but BOTH of them to be prepared to split their parties.
The Tories have been arguing about Europe for 40 years.
The reason that Theresa May has been forced into these talks with someone she has regularly derided as a threat to national security is because too many of her own MPs won’t support her.
If May was to soften her deal to try to get Labour support, she would exacerbate the divide within her own party.
I am told that in the talks, the Government has tried to point out to Labour that the deal does, in the backstop, effectively include a customs union. But Labour has been insistent that the phrase “permanent customs union” must be used in any deal.
UNLIKELY TO WASH
Why? Because they know that by removing ambiguity on this point, they divide the Tories.
One figure close to the talks tells me that Labour has two objectives in these discussions — to maximise Tory divisions and minimise Labour ones.
There is concern among Cabinet ministers that Labour’s aim in this process is to flush out just how much the May government is prepared to concede then walk away.
When political opponents negotiate, such suspicions are inevitable. But there is a huge risk for Corbyn in agreeing any deal with the Government.
The chances of finding one leader prepared to split their party in the national interest is not that high. James Forsyth
If Corbyn helps usher in Brexit — even a soft version — the pro-second referendum forces in the Labour Party will never forgive him. In these circumstances, he would almost certainly lose more MPs.
The simplest way for Corbyn to justify ushering a Brexit deal through would be if the alternative to it was No Deal.
He could argue that he had to act to prevent the UK leaving without a deal.
He could say that No Deal would cost manufacturing jobs and lead to the Tories cutting regulation and corporate taxes.
But with the EU likely to offer the UK an extension of up to a year, this argument doesn’t work — a year is enough time to hold either a General Election or second referendum.
One other option being discussed is the idea that there might be a separate Commons vote on a second referendum.
Labour would whip in favour of it, but because of Tory opposition and Labour rebels, it would not pass. Corbyn could say he had tried but the numbers just weren’t there.
But that approach is unlikely to wash with the more fanatical Labour second-referendum types. They know that there aren’t the votes in Parliament for a second referendum on its own, and so want it to be part of any overall agreement.
Now, I can hear you screaming: What about the good of the country? But the problem is that Nick Clegg’s experience with going into coalition proves that doing the right thing doesn’t prevent you suffering political damage.
The chances of finding one leader prepared to split their party in the national interest is not that high. But the chance of finding two is, well, pretty darn low.
Keir Starmer says Theresa May’s Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn have collapsed
New PM policy blitz ‘ to save Tories’
THERESA MAY has asked for an extension to the UK’s EU membership until June 30. The EU isn’t going to grant this request, though.
AP:Associated Press An influential Brexiteer says Mrs May must go if the UK is granted a year-long Article 50 extension
Instead, it is likely to offer the UK a year-long extension but say that if the UK can ratify the withdrawal agreement then it can leave earlier than that.
So what should the UK do with this year-long extension?
Well, one highly influential Brexiteer tells me that in these circumstances, May must go. There’s no mechanism for removing the PM as Tory leader before December, but this figure argues: “If we let May stay for another nine months, Corbyn will just walk in at the end of it.”
He warns that however messy the process of forcing May out might be, the “alternative is to leave the worst PM ever facing a national emergency with Corbyn gaining ever more ground”.
The nightmare for the Tories is we don’t deliver Brexit and we get Corbyn.Influential Brexiteer
The new leader, the case goes, should then go for a massive domestic policy blitz. There should be a truly radical budget, the most significant this century, designed to show how the UK will prosper in this new era.
May’s successor should then fight a General Election on this domestic policy platform and ending free movement. This approach, given Corbyn’s weaknesses, might just yield a majority.
Armed with a majority, the new Prime Minister would be in a stronger position with both Parliament and the EU.
There is no doubt that this is a high-risk strategy. But there aren’t any good options left for the Tories. As this figure warns: “The nightmare for the Tories is we don’t deliver Brexit and we get Corbyn.”
Favourite Hunt will be hunted
TORY tensions are running high over what Jeremy Hunt did, or did not, say at Cabinet this week.
Rex Features A Cabinet colleague has accused the Foreign Secretary of ‘trying to play both ends’
Several of Hunt’s senior colleagues insist that in the morning’s political Cabinet, he was leaning into No Deal. But that in the afternoon session, he took a softer line.
One Cabinet minister accuses Hunt of “trying to play both ends”.
Another says that the Cabinet is divided between those who are positioning themselves politically and the grown-ups in the room.
They added that “Sajid [Javid] chose to be a grown-up, Hunt positioned”.
Another Secretary of State quips that “if there had been a third meeting, he’d have taken a third position”.
But allies of Hunt are furious about this briefing. They say it is a deliberate misrepresentation of what he said.
They claim that in the morning meeting Hunt was arguing that to get the deal through, the Government needed to present a choice between its deal and No Deal, and that there was no inconsistency between that and what he said later on.
The row, though, shows how Cabinet meetings are becoming weaponised in the Tory leadership contest.
I understand that Theresa May has taken to rolling her eyes when something is said that is obviously designed to be briefed out later.
Hunt is, currently, the front- runner in the Tory leadership contest. But for that reason, he needs to watch his back.
Hamm’s got beef over 2017 shambles
PHILIP Hammond is not going to let Theresa May forget the mistakes that cost the Tories their majority.
Reuters The Chancellor doesn’t want a repeat of the 2017 General Election
When the political Cabinet discussed an early election on Tuesday, I am told that Hammond emphasised that there must not be a repeat of what happened in 2017 – when the manifesto was forced on the Cabinet at the last minute, with them only seeing the whole document at its launch, THREE WEEKS into the campaign.
CommentTHE SUN SAYS The course of Brexit may have been decided by the vote of a convicted criminal CommentQUENTIN LETTS Treacherous Theresa May has surrendered our freedom… and her honour CommentROD LIDDLE Jez like that, Brexit is about to turn out the opposite of what we voted for CommentLEO MCKINSTRY Why is the BBC spending our £3.8billion licence fee on leftie fake news? CommentTOBY YOUNG We need to ban sale of school playing fields to end obesity and diabetes surge CommentJEREMY HUNT As Britain’s Foreign Secretary, I vow to keep the Press free around the globe
It was, of course, the manifesto’s disastrous social care policy that began the Tory slide in the polls. I am told that May looked thoroughly weary as Hammond made his point.
THIS is the “Blue Peter” Cabinet, in the words of one minister.
Why? Because ministers go in for hours of discussion, then Theresa May comes out at the end of the meeting with a policy she made earlier.
James Forsyth is Political Editor of The Spectator.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn says No10 talks on Brexit with PM Theresa May were ‘useful but inconclusive’