…As Mexico governor tells migrants to stay away from his border city: ‘No more caravans!’***
Jeremy Corbyn has written to the prime minister, offering to throw Labour’s support behind her Brexit deal if she makes five legally binding commitments – including joining a customs union.
The Labour leader held private talks with Theresa May last week for the first time since her deal was rejected by a historic margin of 230 votes in January.
In a follow-up letter sent on Wednesday, he laid out in the clearest terms yet what commitments he is seeking in exchange for offering Labour support.
His intervention will dismay backbench Labour MPs and grassroots activists still hoping he will switch the party’s policy towards demanding a second Brexit referendum – which is not mentioned in the letter.
And it comes as No 10 prepares to publish legislation underpinning workers’ rights, perhaps as early as next week, in an attempt to win support from Labour backbenchers.
In his letter, Corbyn calls for the government to rework the political declaration setting the framework for Britain’s future relationship with the EU – and then enshrine these new negotiating objectives in UK law, so that a future Tory leader could not sweep them away after Brexit.
He says the changes to the political declaration must include:
A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union”, including a say in future trade deals.
Close alignment with the single market, underpinned by “shared institutions”.
“Dynamic alignment on rights and protections”, so that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU.
Clear commitments on future UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes.
Unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements, such as use of the European arrest warrant.
There is no mention of the second of the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer’s six tests, which said that Labour would not support any deal that failed to deliver the “exact same benefits” as single market and customs union membership.
Labour’s approach, which Corbyn called “constructive”, appears to be focused firmly on the forward-looking political declaration, rather than the 585-page withdrawal agreement, which contains the Irish backstop and the divorce bill.
“We recognise that your priority is now to seek legally binding changes to the backstop arrangements contained within the withdrawal agreement, as we discussed when we met,” Corbyn writes.
“However, without changes to your negotiating red lines, we do not believe that simply seeking modifications to the existing backstop terms is a credible or sufficient response either to the scale of your defeat last month in parliament, or the need for a deal with the EU that can bring the country together and protect jobs,” he says.
He does not explicitly say that article 50 should be extended – a move that the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, described as “sensible” on Wednesday.
But he said that because of the government’s negotiating failures “time has run out for the necessary preparation and for legislation to be finalised”. He added: “Following last week’s rejection by the House of Commons of no deal, all necessary steps must be taken to avoid such an outcome.”
He concluded: “My colleagues and I look forward to discussing these proposals with you further, in the constructive manner in which they are intended, with the aim of securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together.”
May has so far vehemently resisted the prospect of reopening the political declaration, focusing instead on securing changes to the Irish backstop, which has been the flashpoint for Brexiter Conservative MPs.
But at the same time, her government has been trying to win over Labour backbenchers with new legally binding promises on workers’ rights.
She could propose a new draft bill as early as next week guaranteeing that UK workers’ rights will keep pace with Europe.
Backbench Labour sources said the new bill was in the late stages of drafting and would include a “regression lock” that the UK parliament would ensure workers’ rights would never slip below European standards. That approach appears likely to come close to meeting one of Corbyn’s five tests.
Multiple Labour MPs who have met May over the past few months have made it clear to her that they needed the guarantees to be made in primary legislation – because they do not trust that May will remain in No 10 for much longer.
Those who are in negotiations with the government have insisted that the bill must be tabled and have had at least one day of second reading within the next few months.
In the meantime, the Governor of Coahuila, the Mexican state where this border city is located, has one thing to say after overseeing the arrival of a caravan of nearly 2,000 migrants: “No Mas Caravanas,” or no more caravans. That was the headline in the local newspaper.
“In the case of the state government, we will not allow more migrants to travel to Coahuila,” Gov. Miguel Riquelme told reporters.
The governor explained it wasn’t up to him to stop this caravan when it crossed Mexico’s southern border nearly three weeks ago because that’s the federal government’s job. But this one is here now and he’s doing everything he can to deal with it in the most humanitarian way.
And that way involves the enormous security operation that has contained the migrants at the shelter.
A multi-agency force that includes federal, state and local law enforcement has partnered with Coahuila’s Mexican Army and military police to keep all the migrants housed while they process temporary asylum claims.
Out of nearly 2,000, only 139 migrants have obtained their official cards that will allow them to leave the shelter and travel freely throughout Mexico.
Authorities are also investigating whether the migrants have a criminal past. If they do, they will be deported immediately. So far, no one has been deported as a result.
This aggressive containment is intended for the security of surrounding Coahuila communities – and preventing the threat of them crossing the border, officials say.
The Security Secretary for Coahuila, Jose Luis Pliego Corona, wants Americans to know that they are doing everything possible to identify and remove any criminal threat in this group.
And caravans like this are taking a toll on border cities like Piedras Negras.
Mayor Claudio Bres said he can only keep this going for three months, at most, and is worried about more caravans behind this one.
Ultimately, he says it could have a tremendous economic impact on a city that handles $22 billion worth of cross-border trade – and he’s hoping for a permanent solution.
“It would make it better,” Bres said, “if the Democrats, Republicans, the U.S. government, the Mexican government and the Honduran government would work together to put on the table something that will resolve this for good.”
Guardian UK with additional report from Fox News