For some, Jeremy Corbyn had at last managed to deliver the usual old conference guff and sound like a leader. But for many others well beyond the hard Left, Corbyn’s speech took them out of the tight old Tory straightjacket, if just for a moment. The Brexit passage was particularly clever. Whether he entirely believes in or not, Corbyn made an offer to Theresa May that could be the Brexit breakthrough, one that’s compatible with her comments on the plane to New York last night.
Labour respects the decision of the British people in the referendum . . . That is why if parliament votes down a Tory deal or the government fails to reach any deal at all we would press for a general election. Failing that, all options are on the table . . . But let me also reach out to the prime minister, who is currently doing the negotiating. Brexit is about the future of our country and our vital interests. It is not about leadership squabbles or parliamentary posturing. If you deliver a deal that includes a ( note “a”) customs union and no hard border in Ireland, if you protect jobs, people’s rights at work and environmental and consumer standards, then we will support that sensible deal. A deal that would be backed by most of the business world and trade unions too. But if you can’t negotiate that deal then you need to make way for a party that can.”
He as just about kept the option of another referendum open but he could have said so enthusiastically and he didn’t. Indeed, watch this section because he runs over the line “all options are open” really quickly. He doesn’t believe it.
May’s excruciating problem then would be that if she comes back with a Norway-type deal with a customs union she would split her party and be forced to rely on the Opposition to pass it. I’ve thought for a long time that this is the only way through, whatever the Labour leadership says. Corbyn has made it easier for this to happen without necessarily splitting his party. Tory Brexiteers would then be faced with a dilemma of letting it pass or forcing a leadership election. Even if May stood and won like Major in 1995, her victory would be narrow and would weaken her still further. However what position would a successor adopt? Denounce the deal and fight a general election, on a Conservative Canada versus Labour Norway (the country names are signifiers for different Brexit plans, you understand). Either way, a referendum is redundant at that point.
Reactions were broadly favourable but varied between seeing it as a clever tactic or a real game changer.
George Osborne , the former chancellor sacked by May who described her as a dead woman walking. Now editor of the London Evening Standard
Our second edition @EveningStandard: Corbyn offers May a Brexit deal – stay in customs union, keep open Irish border and social protection. Business and unions would accept this; many in Tory party won’t. Puts ball in PM’s court
Robert Peston, ITV News Pol Ed
The olive branch @jeremycorbyn has extended to @theresa_may could save or destroy her. Just to be clear, his offer is what some in her cabinet, and many on her benches, in Whitehall, in Brussels and in EU capitals have been mooting as a Brexit compromise that would solve both.
Leading Tory commentator
Don’t agree with it but Corbyn has a comprehensive and maybe compelling vision for post-crash future of Britain. May doesn’t and that leaves Tories very vulnerable. Much more than that, it leaves future of our free enterprise system vulnerable. Tick, tock, tick tock for Tory MPs
Tom McTaigue, Politico
XIT Striking change in tone (if not substance) on Brexit from Corbyn, making customs union his price for support on final deal. He is distancing Lab from ultra remainers, seen as “wreckers” in much of Lab’s heartlands. Clever signalling. Exactly what the Tories did not want. Jeremy Corbyn just pledged to back a brexit very similar to the landing zone many expect the brexit talks to end up High standards for goods, a customs union (for now, perhaps in all but name) no hard border…… is where some people think Theresa May’s deal could land. ..
Jeremy Corbyn’s #Brexit announcement will be read with interest in EU. Angela Merkel understood to believe #Chequers proposal on common rule book for goods could work if UK joined a customs union @BBCNewsnight
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London