LONDON (Reuters) - Twenty-five lawmakers in Britain’s opposition Labour Party have urged their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to go the “extra step” if there is a chance of agreeing a Brexit deal in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May.
May, whose deal to leave the European Union has been rejected in parliament three times, has turned to Corbyn in a last-ditch bid to get the support of his Labour Party for an agreement she signed with the bloc’s leaders in November.
Corbyn has welcomed the talks, but the invitation poses a threat for his divided Labour Party - some members and lawmakers are demanding a second referendum on any deal while others fear being blamed for helping pass May’s much-criticised agreement.
The 25 lawmakers, almost all from areas which voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, said the talks “represent a real opportunity” for Corbyn, a way to get a deal which would meet Labour’s demands for a Brexit that protected workers’ rights.
They reminded him in the letter that he had told May Labour would support a “sensible deal” that included “a customs union and no hard border in Ireland”, protected jobs and workers, environmental and consumer standards.
“We believe you are close to achieving that in the coming days,” said the letter whose signatories include Labour’s schools spokesman Mike Kane and three lawmakers who last week voted in favour of May’s deal: Rosie Cooper, Caroline Flint and Kevin Barron.
“At the general election, we were clear about respecting the 2016 vote, and about securing those Labour goals. Therefore, we feel if compromise is necessary to achieve this deal and avoid fighting the European elections, we should go the extra step to secure this.”
Corbyn, a long-standing critic of the EU, has long said he wants Britain to leave the bloc with a deal, respecting the 2016 referendum when 52 percent of voters backed leaving the bloc in Britain’s biggest shift in policy since World War Two.
But the opposition leader has been content to watch the governing Conservative Party take on Brexit, a move that has not only divided the country, but has all but redrawn the political landscape by widening rifts in the main parties.
In a last gamble, May announced she would bring Corbyn into talks to try to find a way to break the deadlock in parliament, which has voted against leaving the bloc without an agreement.
Corbyn is pressing his desire for a “permanent customs union” and alignment with the EU’s single market in the talks - red lines for a prime minister who had made controlling immigration one of the key stones of her Brexit policy.
But the Labour leader is under growing pressure to make any agreement with May conditional on holding a confirmatory referendum on the deal, or asking the public to back it in another vote.
The 25 lawmakers said such a vote was not part of Labour policy.
“Our policy, agreed by members, accepts that the public voted to leave the EU and seeks a deal that secure jobs and rights at work. It does not require a confirmatory ballot on any deal that meets those conditions,” the letter said.
“Delaying for many months in the hope of a second referendum will simply divide the country further and add uncertainty for business. A second referendum would be exploited by the far right, damage the trust of many core Labour voters and reduce our chances of winning a general election.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Guy Faulconbridge