Rumours are floating around the bubble that May and Corbyn are on the verge of agreeing a Brexit deal and are only waiting until after the local elections to make this public. While it’s best not to put too much faith in this sort of thing, it does make sense of recent events: Number 10 saying they are expecting the talks with Labour to end the middle of next week, which sounds a lot like May’s sort of literalism, while Corbyn had to spend a reasonable amount of political capital to get the commitment to only consider putting another referendum on the table if that could be considered considerable in the right set of circumstances, once every other possibility had been exhausted including evacuating the entire island of Britain, and only then be considered to be considered as a possibility to be put on the table, passed by Labour’s NEC.
Now, Number 10 could obviously just be buying time for lack of anything better to do, and I’ve said many times before that Corbyn will avoid another EU referendum at all costs for his own personal reasons. Still, you have to take the rumours, look at what Corbyn and May have said and/or done this week and conclude the shoe does fits.
The only deal that is possible between the two main parties is that the Tories agree to sign up to a permanent customs union with the EU, with a few other bits and bobs Labour will want added on. The permanent state of the customs union is the big May red line erased if this happens. Neither Corbyn nor May want a second referendum, so that’s out.
If this comes to pass, I think it could actually be the end of both major parties, for real this time, only because of their massive size it will take years to play out. May will have agreed to something that almost no one in the Conservative party wants: the Brexiteers don’t want a customs union since they feel they need to be out of everything EU related and want the ability to set their own tariffs; the Remainers don’t really want to go from being a full-fledged member of the EU to becoming Turkey. So, it’s worth thinking about how many Tory MPs would vote for such a compromise. Even if the numbers are there because of Labour, hard feelings will rage for decades.
On the Labour side, Corbyn can get away with kicking Remainers around endlessly with semantics on Brexit – but doing a deal with the Tories to leave the EU would be the Labour leadership stepping into a whole new world of betrayal. One, they will have worked with the Conservatives to deliver Brexit. It will be clear that it could not have happened without Labour votes. Labour will then be responsible for anything that happens to Brexit from there on in the electorate’s mind, even if the Tories screw Labour over and tear up most of what was agreed once they have a new leader and we’re out of the EU. Second, a lot of young Labour supporters cling to this idea that Corbyn is really a Remainer, deep down, and that he is playing some kind of long game. If he teams up with the Tories to deliver Brexit, that illusion is shattered for all but the most religiously intoxicated to the Corbyn cult. And make no mistake about it: if the deal gets through on Labour votes, that is what will be the story, now and for the rest of time. Neither the right of centre nor the left will ever let us forget.
All of this makes me think there’s no way Labour will actually agree to something with the Tories next week. Then again, who knows. If it happens, I think it kills the Labour Party, at least eventually. Slow death, but death nonetheless.