This evening, Jeremy Corbyn walked out of a meeting between opposition party leaders and the Prime Minister about Brexit. The reason for his angry protest had nothing to do with what was being discussed, but his distaste for one of the attendees. Former Labour MP Chuka Umunna was there to represent the Independent Group, and this, according to those present, was too much for the Labour leader to stomach.
Labour has since said the the terms of the meeting had changed and that this wasn’t what Corbyn had agreed to when he said he would meet the Prime Minister in her office. But this is an impressive own goal, even by the Labour leader’s standards. Not only does it give the Independent Group more publicity, and also benefit the other opposition party leaders who stayed, it also makes it much easier for Theresa May to claim, as she did a little later this evening in Downing Street, that petty politicians are holding up the Brexit process. As it happens, the other party leaders left the meeting saying it was pointless and that May had offered nothing more than a ‘tick box exercise’. But May’s failure is not the story: Corbyn’s refusal to attend has dominated instead.
What makes it harder for Corbyn to claim that this was some great act of integrity is of course his tendency over the years to hang out with member of groups that are actually objectionable, such as the IRA and Hamas. It seems odd to single out what is currently a rather confused bunch of exiles from two parties as being worse than terrorists.
Labour has just released a statement from Corbyn following a ‘conversation with Theresa May’, in which the Labour leader says he ‘made clear to the Prime Minister tonight that we must move immediately to agree a compromise alternative that supports jobs and living standards, can win the support of parliament, be negotiated with the EU and bring the country together’. His pitch now seems to be that he wants to talk to May on bilateral terms, rather than as part of a crowd of parties. But this still seems rather pernickety given the scale of the crisis facing parliament.