Jeremy Corbyn to meet top EU Brexit negotiator Barnier in Brussels

18 Oct

Jeremy Corbyn will meet the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels on Thursday, as he seeks to exploit Tory division over Brexit and present Labour as a better negotiating team.

As well as Barnier, Corbyn will hold bilateral meetings with three EU prime ministers, as Britain’s negotiating partners try to gauge the balance of power over Brexit.

Corbyn, who will be accompanied by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, said: “As the government’s splits and Brexit bungling become ever more damaging, Labour stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations.”

Making reference to the chancellor, Philip Hammond’s comment that “the enemy” were in the EU, not at home – for which the chancellor subsequently apologised – Corbyn said: “Far from viewing the European Union as the enemy, Labour would conduct negotiations in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect with the aim of achieving a strong settlement for Britain and a new relationship with Europe.”

He will meet the Portuguese, Italian and Swedish prime ministers, and the president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani.

Starmer held a series of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday, and Labour sources said several senior figures had expressed concerns about the clear divisions among Conservative MPs over the outlines of a future Brexit deal.

Corbyn’s visit to Brussels came after pro-Brexit Tory MPs wrote to the Labour leader to accuse him of undermining Britain’s negotiating stance by refusing to back preparations for a no-deal outcome.

Signed by 19 MPs, led by Suella Fernandes, chair of the backbench European Research Group, the letter says: “If we fail to take the necessary steps to prepare for our exit on all possible terms then we remove options that the UK can take, and allow a situation to arise where whatever deal the EU offer will have to be accepted because there is no alternative. Is this Labour’s policy?”

It adds: “There are those in the EU for whom the sole priority in these negotiations is that they punish Britain. Your policy would give them strength.”

Senior Labour figures including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have signalled that Labour would be prepared to cooperate with Conservative MPs to try to vote down a no-deal Brexit — though it is unclear whether parliament would be given a vote in that scenario.

Labour itself is divided about the kind of Brexit Britain should pursue. A campaign group within the party is arguing vociferously for Britain to remain permanently in the single market, which is not the shadow cabinet’s policy.

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