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Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit proposal could help Theresa May but divide Labour

AN air of chaos has characterised much of the Brexit process, arguably epitomised by Prime Minister Theresa May's emphatic failure in getting her own withdrawal agreement with the European Union through the House of Commons.

Mrs May has now set herself the task of persuading the EU to drop the proposed backstop arrangement which so many in her own Conservative party, as well as the DUP, detest.

It is by no means certain that Brussels will accede to the demands Mrs May is presenting on behalf of the British parliament - not least because it is unclear what those demands precisely are.

EU officials have, at every opportunity, restated their view that the backstop is essential to prevent the prospect of a hard border in Ireland, with all the social, political and cultural upheaval that would entail.

Without significant changes of the sort demanded by her party's Brexiteers, it looks likely that Mrs May will in the near future be presenting MPs with a stark choice.

They can either back her original withdrawal agreement with some minor, and probably unsatisfactory to all concerned, clarifications; or, they can commit themselves to a 'no deal' Brexit, which would be disastrous.

There may be another way, however. Mrs May could stop trying to placate the Tory and DUP hard-Brexiteers and instead attempt to build some sort of consensus across Westminster.

Among other things, and because the parliamentary arithmetic is so finely balanced, this will mean she needs to win Labour support for her final proposals.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to Mrs May with five demands that he wants met in exchange for backing a Brexit deal.

These include a permanent customs union, which Mr Corbyn argues will avoid a hard border, and close alignment with the EU single market.

He also wants continuing alignment between the UK and the EU on rights, and to commit Britain to contribute financially to EU agencies and cooperation on security arrangements.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Corbyn's proposals were "very interesting" because they pointed to a close future relationship between the UK and the EU.

Downing Street hasn't dismissed Mr Corbyn's letter out of hand, saying it was looking at it "with interest" but acknowledging that "very considerable points of difference" remained.

On Brexit, however, the Labour party is at least as divided as the Conservatives.

Mr Corbyn's letter appears to shut-down Labour's support for a second referendum, prompting furious criticism from senior Remain figures in the party; former shadow secretary of state Owen Smith, for example, said he could even quit the party.

But whatever the fate of Mr Corbyn's contribution, it is clear that further weeks of Brexit hell lie ahead.

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