Pledging to vote against Prime Minister Theresa May's deal next week, he said yesterday that only a Labour government could secure an accord with the EU that would reunite Britain, a move that would, he acknowledged, most probably require an extension of the Brexit talks with Brussels.
“If the government cannot pass its most important legislation then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity,” he said. “Clearly, Labour does not have enough MPs in parliament to win a confidence vote on its own. So members across the House should vote with us to break the deadlock,” he said, adding that Labour would call a vote of no confidence when it had the greatest chance of success.
Corbyn said only an election could give the winning party “a renewed mandate to negotiate a better deal” that could pass through parliament, adding that an election and renegotiation would most probably mean an extension to Article 50, which began Britain's divorce proceedings in 2017.
Any extension would require the agreement of the other 27 EU member states. “Moving into office at a period right up against the clock, there would need to be time for that negotiation,” Corbyn said. “An extension would be a possibility, because clearly there has to be time to negotiate.”
He has been lukewarm in his support of a second vote on Britain's membership of the EU. “If a general election cannot be secured, then we will keep all options on the table, including the option of campaigning for a public vote,” he said.
May is contemplating a Brexit “Plan B” amid growing signs that the British parliament will reject the deal she's reached with the EU and try to take charge of what happens next.
On Wednesday, the prime minister suffered her second defeat in two days in the House of Commons, losing control of the timetable for setting out the next steps if - as expected - parliament votes down her Brexit deal on Tuesday. In the aftermath of Wednesday's defeat, May's office publicly discussed for the first time what she would do if she loses that critically important vote.
“Our intention has always been to respond quickly and provide certainty on the way forward in the event we lose,” her spokesperson, James Slack, said.
This followed a defeat on Tuesday when the Commons voted to undermine her preparations for a no-deal exit from the bloc. It all points to a scenario in which the prime minister, who leads a weak minority government, can't dictate what happens next, while an emboldened parliament increasingly asserts its will.
With fewer than 80 days until the UK is due to leave the EU, time is running out to secure an agreement. If the UK tumbles out of the bloc on March 29 without any new trading partnership in place, official analysis suggests the impact could trigger a recession. Labour's Brexit spokesperson Keir Starmer thinks delaying Brexit beyond March 29 is now likely.
The EU, meanwhile, is waiting to see how badly May loses next week's vote before deciding how to respond. Reuters Bloomberg