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British opposition leader Corbyn meets EU on Brexit


AFP Brussels
The leader of Britain's main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, met senior EU officials in Brussels Thursday after warning he may oppose any Brexit deal negotiated by the London government.
Corbyn, who told his party conference Wednesday that a no-deal Brexit would be a "national disaster", has nevertheless said his party will vote against any accord based on Prime Minister Theresa May's plan.
European officials and many EU member state leaders also oppose parts of May's "Chequers" blueprint, but worry Britain could crash out of the bloc if an eventual deal is vetoed by British MPs.
Corbyn's answer is to push May to call a general election, in the hope that Labour can win power and then negotiate an exit deal that he says would better protect jobs, trade and workers' rights.
He told the Labour conference on Wednesday he would support any "sensible deal" May brings back from Brussels but warned: "if you can't negotiate that deal then you need to make a way for a party that can".
There is barely any time for such a plan to bear fruit, however -- under the terms of Article 50 of the EU Treaty, Britain will leave the Union on March 29 next year, with or without a divorce deal.
May, meanwhile is in talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier in hopes of striking a compromise arrangement that would keep Britain in a single market for goods while seeking a broader trade deal.
European leaders warn that this deal, which they insist must include special provisions for Northern Ireland that May has rejected out of hand, must be ready before a Brussels summit on October 18.
But if a deal is struck, perhaps then or perhaps at an expected extraordinary summit in mid-November, then it would have to be approved by both the British and EU parliaments.
This would appear to leave no time for Corbyn's Labour to overthrow May's Conservatives and to negotiate a Brexit in line with his own more worker-friendly vision.
Europe is therefore worried, and Barnier took the opportunity of Corbyn's visit to Brussels to attend a tribute to murdered pro-Europe Labour MP Jo Cox to arrange a meeting.
Ahead of the talks, EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas refused to comment on reports that the powerful secretary general of the EU civil service, Martin Selmayr, is working on a plan for "no deal".
"We work for a deal, without neglecting our duties," he told reporters, denying reports that Corbyn would meet with Selmayr during his one-day Brussels visit.
Before heading to the Berlaymont building housing the European Commission, Corbyn and Labour's Brexit pointman Keir Starmer attended a ceremony to name a Brussels square after murdered Labour MP Jo Cox.
Cox, a strong supporter of Britain's EU membership, was killed by a right-wing extremist on June 16, 2016, at the height of the country's divisive Brexit referendum campaign.
Corbyn, himself previously a long-standing euro-sceptic, has been criticised by the pro-remain camp for not campaigning hard enough for Labour's anti-Brexit stance.
Now he is under pressure again from within his own party and the left-leaning electorate to back a second referendum on whatever deal May and the Conservatives come up with.
Starmer has said a referendum to reverse Brexit must be an "option", but Corbyn's position is less clear.
The Labour leader did not address the issue at Cox's memorial ceremony, but -- as he looked on sombrely -- two political allies paid tribute to the slain MP's support for Europe.
"She lived her life to make lives better for everybody else," Corbyn said of Cox, who worked in Brussels for six years as an aide to Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock and for aid agency Oxfam.
"She loved her time in Brussels. She loved the spirit and the music, the internationalism, the globalism of the city," he added, without reference to the European Union.
But Richard Corbett, head of the Labour MPs in the European Parliament, noted that Cox was murdered "just a few days before we voted in that terrible referendum."

And Udo Bullman, overall head of the Socialist group that includes Labour, said: "If we had heard the voice of Jo, this great nation the United Kingdom would stay where it belongs in the heart of Europe.

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First Published: Sep 27 2018 | 7:45 PM IST

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