Jeremy Corbyn divides Labour and Tories by making Brexit offer to the PM

7 February 2019, 10:48 | Updated: 7 February 2019, 12:32

Jeremy Corbyn has divided parliament down the middle with a new offer to help Theresa May get her Brexit deal passed.

The Labour leader was praised for "realism" by Conservative MPs but attacked by Remainers in his own party for presenting "a complete joke" of a proposal.

Mr Corbyn set his price for backing a Brexit deal in a late-night letter sent to Mrs May, including a customs union with the EU and alignment with the single market.

A spokeswoman for Theresa May said the prime minister had received the letter and will respond in due course - but cautioned that she has not changed her position that a customs union should be ruled out.

The letter came on the eve of a trip to Brussels for the prime minister, who is demanding EU leaders reopen negotiations on the deal struck in November.

Mrs May suffered a massive defeat when she tried to get approval from MPs, and she is now seeking to strip out the controversial "Irish backstop".

That is the insurance policy to prevent a hard border reforming on the EU-UK frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Corbyn has signalled he could help Mrs May get a deal passed - but has made five new demands.

They include participation in EU agencies and giving the UK a say on future trade deals struck by Brussels.

Nick Boles, a Tory MP who pioneered the "Norway 2.0" model to keep the UK closely aligned with the EU after Brexit, welcomed the move.

"This takes us a big step closer to a cross-party compromise," he announced on Twitter, signalling "many other" Tory MPs could back it.

Former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, a staunch defender of the backstop, also said that "for all the talk of fire and brimstone elsewhere", there was a "welcome realism" from Mr Corbyn.

"A Brexit stage 1 landing zone coming into view?" he asked.

However, Mr Corbyn's gesture has infuriated Labour Remainers.

Former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie claimed that when jobs go, Mr Corbyn would have "zero right to complain" and would "share responsibility" with the government.

Chuka Umunna also complained that Mr Corbyn's position was "utterly laughable" and a "complete joke".

He said: "I hate to think what all those young voters who flocked to the party for the first time in 2017 will make of this. Vote Labour, get a Tory Brexit."

A source in the People's Vote campaign, which is pushing for a referendum on the final terms of Brexit, said it was important to "shine a light" on "fantasy" Brexit options, such as Mr Corbyn's.

They told Sky News: "Once they've all been exposed as undeliverable, it's going to be clear that a People's Vote is the only way forward."