Jeremy Corbyn has written to Theresa May suggesting a five-point plan to deliver Brexit. And shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said that, unless May accepts the plan, there should be a second referendum.
Unlike almost anything Corbyn has said in the past, Labour’s proposals have won backing from the European Union (EU) and fit in with the demands of business groups.
That should be a warning.
Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit co-ordinator for the European Parliament, tweeted, “I welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s letter making a cross-party approach for the first time possible. From the hell we’re in today, there is at last hope of a heavenly solution, even if it won’t be Paradise.”
European Council president Donald Tusk said the letter was a “promising way” out of the impasse.
Last year the bosses’ Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors welcomed a similar Labour plan to the one rolled out this week.
It’s easy to see why they all like the offer. It calls for a customs union that would almost certainly stop Britain from making independent trade deals separate from those negotiated by the EU.
Another point calls for “close alignment with the single market, underpinned by shared institutions and obligations”. This is similar to May’s Chequer’s Plan that emerged last summer before being torpedoed by the Tories and the EU at a later stage.
If Labour decides it wishes to be fully in the single market, the EU will insist it signs up to state-aid rules. These limit intervention in businesses and rule out wholesale nationalisation of sectors. “Corbyn will have to come out of the closet and say we accept single market rules,” said one senior EU official.
The plan could cause problems for the Tories. There might be a parliamentary majority for this version of a pro-business Brexit – and the EU could accept it.
But May cannot go down that route because it would split her party and lose the support of the DUP bigots.
Tory MP Simon Clarke has said, “Were we to adopt the terrible Labour idea of being non-voting members of the customs union, I fear there’s a real risk to the party staying together.”
So some might see Corbyn’s plan as a clever manoeuvre. But anything that gets praise from the undemocratic, racist EU and the bosses is alarming.
Corbyn’s plan comes at the price of dumping a Brexit linked to wider class issues that is directed against the priorities of corporations and the rich.
Corbyn also makes no mention of defending freedom of movement. It’s further confirmation that Labour is bending towards the racist view that migration is a problem.
But this wasn’t the criticism from the Labour right. Instead they moaned that Corbyn had not come out fully for a second referendum.
Chuka Umunna MP called Corbyn’s letter “totally demoralising”.
Owen Smith MP, who stood against Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016, said he and “lots of other people” were considering their future in the party after the letter was published.
Perhaps in response, Corbyn sent a letter to every Labour member on Thursday.
It rightly said, “Whether people live in Tottenham or Mansfield, they face the same problems of austerity, the injustice of Universal Credit and insecure work. The real divide in our country is not between Leave and Remain, but between the many and the few.”
Bit it added, “If Parliament is deadlocked, then the best outcome would be a general election. Without it, we will keep all options on the table, as agreed in our party conference motion, including the option of a public vote.”
A second referendum would in reality seek to overturn the vote to leave the EU in the interests of the bosses. Corbyn and McDonnell should not support one.
And instead of seeking to compromise with the odious Labour right, Corbyn should move to support their reselection or removal.
The longer they are allowed to attack Corbyn, the greater the chance they will eventually lead a damaging split similar to the one in 1981 which set up the Social Democratic Party. This took enough votes from Labour to help Margaret Thatcher win the 1983 general election.
Meanwhile Theresa May returned to Brussels on Thursday for more talks with the EU. She hopes to time-limit the Irish backstop and thereby unite the Tories and the DUP around a deal.
Tusk tweeted after his meeting with May that there was “still no breakthrough in sight”.
May hopes that the threat of a Corbyn-like deal, or of no deal, will force pro-Brexit Tories into supporting her anyway.
Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March when the two-year limit on withdrawal negotiations under the Article 50 process expires.
As May staggers from crisis to crisis, the crucial task for the unions and Labour is to mobilise workers in their own interests, not to back one or other version of a bosses’ Brexit.