Jeremy Corbyn’s cross-party talks to stop a no-deal Brexit have broken up, with opposition leaders and MPs releasing a statement saying they ‘agreed on the urgency to act together to find practical ways to prevent no deal, including the possibility of passing legislation and a vote of no confidence’. The Labour leader opened the meeting by saying he would prioritise legislation, rather than a vote of no confidence, which will be kept as a last resort.
Calling a vote of no confidence in the first few days of Parliament sitting next week might have been a dramatic way of Corbyn trying to show that he was serious about stopping a no-deal exit and that he does really want a general election, but it is also very unlikely to have succeeded. For the Conservative MPs who might consider the huge step of voting against their government, it would have come too soon, as they would rather see whether there is likely to be a deal before turning against their party.
Given other opposition leaders such as Jo Swinson have also made clear that they would not install Corbyn as a caretaker prime minister, the legislative route allows the Labour leader to avoid – for now – accusations that he’s less serious about Brexit than he is about his own party’s hunger for power. So this is an admission of weakness from Labour, artfully disguised in the consensus between those at today’s meeting.
What does the legislative route involve? MPs want to take control of the parliamentary timetable and pass a bill which rules out a no-deal exit, possibly also extending Article 50. They also want to block the conference recess, which is due to take three weeks out of the Commons calendar. There are various different factions working on different mechanisms, and some are more coy than others about what they have planned. Each faction disagrees with the others to a degree on the best tactics, something that will be much harder to hide once parliament returns next week. But it seems clear from today’s meeting that while Corbyn might facilitate talks between some of the groups, he has insufficient power to lead parliament into battle with the government.