In Brief

What did Jeremy Corbyn promise the EU on Brexit?

Brexiteer labels Labour leader ‘useful idiot’ as Tories rebuff opposition’s Brexit advances

Jeremy Corbyn met EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels yesterday, in a sign the EU is taking seriously both the threat of a no-deal Brexit and a future Labour government.

The Labour leader had been planning a low-key visit to the Belgian capital to attend the naming of a square in honour of murdered MP Jo Cox, but expanded his schedule at the request of EU officials keen to hear directly about his party’s plans.

Corbyn and his team, which included Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, also met with Martin Selmayr, the secretary general of the European Commission, who is in charge of no-deal planning.

Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Corbyn said he had urged EU officials to “do all they can to avoid a no-deal outcome” but said Labour would vote down any agreement that did not respect its six tests in Westminster.

Ashley Fox, the leader of Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament, accused the Labour leader of trying to force a general election by vetoing the deal, saying: “The EU knows this and regards him as a threat to the negotiations”.

Former UKIP leader and MEP Nigel Farage said that Corbyn, who refused to answer questions over whether he was undermining the prime minister, was viewed as “a useful idiot” by Brussels.

Corbyn’s hardening stance comes after his offer to back the prime minister’s Brexit deal in return for a customs union was quickly rebuffed by the Conservatives.

Speaking to the London Evening Standard, party chairman Brandon Lewis said that tying Britain to the EU’s trading bloc rules would “not respect the referendum result” of 2016.

The rebuff followed reports in The Daily Telegraph that Labour was “prepared to throw Theresa May a lifeline” and bend its red lines on Brexit in order to secure a good deal with the EU.

In what the newspaper described as “a boost for the prime minister”, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said that “none of us want” a no-deal Brexit that would take Britain “off the edge of that cliff”, adding that if the option facing the country was a deal or crashing out of the bloc, “we’re prepared to bend our red lines”.

However, the Tories dismissed the offer out of hand, something that “won’t come as much of a surprise to Corbyn, who was probably motivated in what he said more by the desire to show that Labour is not blocking Brexit than by any expectation that May was going to agree”, reports Andrew Sparrow in The Guardian.

Despite that, “given that Theresa May’s negotiating credibility depends on what she can get through Parliament, anything Barnier picks up about Labour’s positioning could have a bearing on what the EU decides to offer”, adds Sparrow.

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