Jeremy Corbyn dramatically conceded today that Brexit may have to be delayed.
The Labour leader said more time could be needed to negotiate a better deal than Theresa May’s widely rejected blueprint. His admission was seen as a significant shift, opening the door to Brexit not taking place on March 29, and risked sparking anger among Brexiteers.
Mr Corbyn has previously stopped short of saying that a delay may be needed to strike a fresh deal with Brussels if the Government collapses amid Brexit turmoil and his party won a general election.
But shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer raised the prospect of a delay in the Commons yesterday when speaking against a no-deal, saying: “I actually genuinely think we can’t do it on 29 March this year.”
Speaking in Wakefield, West Yorkshire today, Mr Corbyn denied that there was a “split” between Sir Keir and him on this issue.
The Labour leader added: “He made it clear the practicalities of negotiating. An extension would be a possibility because there has to be time to negotiate.
“Quite clearly, moving into office at a period right up against the clock, there would need to be time for that negotiation.”
The concession is likely to delight campaigners for a second referendum, including party members in London who overwhelmingly favour Remain. However, Mr Corbyn refused to give ground on the public having another say, insisting it was only one of the options on the table.
He argued his party could negotiate a better Brexit deal based on a customs union and a strong single market relationship with the EU.
There were signs today that some Labour MPs could back Theresa May’s proposals if she agrees to give guarantees on workers’ rights. But Mr Corbyn rejected an expected concession from the Government to adopt an amendment to protect workplace and environmental rights.
“It’s already been quite clearly and emphatically rejected by the TUC and leading trade unions. They say it simply doesn’t guarantee the protections that we are seeking,” he said.
Labour is set to move a motion of no-confidence in the Government next week, possibly within hours of Mrs May’s Brexit plans being rejected, which is widely expected to happen on Tuesday unless she can win a last-minute concession from Brussels on the Northern Ireland “backstop”.
Mr Corbyn said: “This is a Government that cannot command a majority in the House of Commons. We will move a motion of no-confidence at a time of our choosing when we judge the best chance would be success in doing that.”
Hilary Benn, Labour chairman of the Commons Brexit committee, believes that gridlock in the Commons may be impossible to break.
“If Parliament in the end, cannot reach agreement around something, then the options that are on the table may have to go back to the British people,” he told Sky News. “That would be democratic.”