Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to Theresa May of a softer Brexit has been seized on by Brussels as a way out of the current deadlock in the UK parliament.
EU chiefs raised the Labour leader’s compromise plan during tense, face-to-face talks with the Prime Minister on Thursday, No.10 sources revealed.
And May herself is looking “with interest” at Corbyn’s plan - for a jobs-friendly and worker-friendly exit - Downing Street officials confirmed.
But the PM privately warned EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk that Labour was itself split over the move to back an amended version of the current withdrawal agreement between the UK and Brussels.
With just 50 days to the planned ‘Exit Day’ on March 29, May is launching a fresh diplomatic push to get EU support for a plan that could win support in the House of Commons.
She travels to Dublin on Friday, and No.10 also revealed that her Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will meet his Irish counterpart to discuss legally binding ways to amend the controversial ‘backstop’ for the Northern Ireland border.
Key details of the meetings with European leaders emerged after May revealed publicly that she had told Tusk his “hell” remarks had sparked anger in Britain.
On Wednesday night, Corbyn made a bold offer to the PM to give his support in a Commons vote if she met his five demands to soften her Brexit plans.
Among the demands are a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union”, explicit legislation to protect workers’ rights, continued membership of key EU agencies, security cooperation and ‘close alignment’ to the single market for trade.
HuffPost UK understands that Labour’s policy position has been developed following close contacts with Brussels insiders.
No.10 sources confirmed the Corbyn letter had been raised, though not ‘proactively’ by May herself. Fresh talks with the Labour leader are expected in coming days.
“It is welcome that the Leader of the Opposition is engaging in this. It is important that we continue to hold discussions to find a way forward to deliver Brexit,” one official said.
“We are looking at those proposals with interest but there are obviously very considerable points of difference that exist between us.
“The PM continues to believe that an independent trade policy is one of the key advantages of Brexit. Her position on, for example, membership of the customs union hasn’t changed.”
May, who met Corbyn for the first time last week to discuss Brexit, is expected to write her own official reply to him on Friday.
However, Tory insiders think that the row sparked by Corbyn’s letter did not bode well for any attempt to get large numbers of Labour MPs to back the government.
Within minutes of the letter emerging, anti-Brexit Labour backbenchers expressed fury at the suggestion their party could help May to deliver her plans.
And shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook tweeted that if the PM refused to adopt the five demands in full, then Labour would move towards a second referendum.
“It’s evident during the course of the afternoon that the letter itself has started a fairly lively debate in Jeremy Corbyn’s party,” a government source said.
“We hope we will be able to have further talks to get a greater understanding of what is proposed.”
Attorney General Cox is a leading Brexiteer and his legal advice seen as key to any deal being approved by backbench Tory MPs and the DUP MPs who prop the party up in power.
May will meet Irish PM Leo Varadkar on Friday in another bid to get agreement to avoid a no-deal exit.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will travel to Brussels on Monday for fresh talks with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.