Jeremy Corbyn must seize the chance he’s been given to be instrumental in delivering Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn must seize the chance he’s been given to be instrumental in delivering Brexit

The decision by Theresa May to invite Jeremy Corbyn for talks in order to find a Brexit deal that would command a majority in the House of Commons was a brave one to take, reflecting her determination to deliver on the referendum result before she leaves office. It attracted vocal opposition from many of her MPs as well as members of her own party.

For the public at large, there was a huge sigh of relief; ‘Just get on with it’ has been the overwhelming response – as it has been throughout the tortuous parliamentary process. On the Labour side, some thought it fit to warn Corbyn of a trap as if he were a political novice. He accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation without any fuss and for that he’ll be generously rewarded in any forthcoming election.

But having committed to compromise to save Brexit, May and Corbyn must now deliver. Neither will be forgiven by the electorate if they fail.

It has always been the case that Brexit could only be delivered with support from Labour. Invoking Article 50, rejecting membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union and thwarting a second referendum were all realised either through formal Labour support, formal Labour abstention or by a number of Labour MPs defying the whip. Jeremy Corbyn, through clever tactical manoeuvres, has been able to keep Labour from reneging on its promise to respect the outcome of the EU referendum.

Of late, however, Corbyn has been finding it exceedingly difficult to hold back the clamour by Remainers in his shadow cabinet and parliamentary party to sabotage Brexit through a second referendum which they now call a confirmatory vote.

In that sense, the offer of talks by Theresa May is as much a lifeline for Corbyn as it is for her. It is most fitting that Corbyn, the arch eurosceptic, should be instrumental in delivering Brexit.

The argument that having voted to Leave, the people should be consulted again through a second referendum on whether they wish to change their minds now they know what Brexit actually means, has as much validity as the losing side in a general election demanding a public vote on the first budget of a newly-elected government to find out if the electorate, now they know what the new government means to do, wish to change their mind. The confirmatory vote is the desperate tactic of those who, having lost a democratic vote, wish to have another go.

The argument that nothing but a clean break with the EU is acceptable exaggerates the EU’s importance and strength and diminishes those of the UK and its people; if anything, the EU is what the Chinese, before they started building some themselves, used to call a paper tiger, riddled as it is with irreconcilable internal contradictions.

The choice facing Parliament is not a Brexit with a deal or a Brexit without a deal; but a Brexit with a deal or no Brexit at all.

Apart from leaving with no deal, a Withdrawal Agreement remains the only viable mechanism to enable Brexit to take place. But Parliament is intent on blocking a no-deal Brexit. Hopes that, being the default state, it will automatically materialise once time runs out and all other options are exhausted are infantile; Parliament has shown its determination to take any step necessary to stop a no-deal departure – even if that means revoking Article 50.

Labour has no particular objection to the Withdrawal Agreement. Keir Starmer made that clear in a reply to an intervention in Parliament: the reason why Labour was voting against the Withdrawal ¬†Agreement was because it was being taken separately from the Political Declaration which the Government insisted were inseparable. The differences between Labour and the Government thus hinge around the Political Declaration, which is not legally binding; at most it is an indication of the type of relationship we would have with the EU once we’ve left.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the Withdrawal Agreement does bring to an end our membership of the EU and restores our sovereignty; once sovereign, the balance of forces will tilt in our favour and we can take any path we wish that serves the interest of the country, its economy and its people.

Jeremy Corbyn has always been clear, Labour must respect the result of the referendum and the UK must leave the EU. Now is his chance to deliver.