Brexit: Make no mistake, something has finally happened on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with former British Prime Minister John Major
Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with former British Prime Minister John Major and Liam Fox

Prime Minister Theresa May seeks further Brexit delay and makes an offer to Corbyn – AIWA! NO!

Prime Minister Theresa May at church near her Maidenhead constituency
Image:Theresa May has effectively nationalise the Brexit process, writes Lewis Goodall

Lewis Goodall, political correspondent/Sky news||What a difference a fortnight makes.

Just two weeks ago, the prime minister stood in Downing Street defiant. She lacerated MPs, harried parliament, blamed them for the logjam. She insisted that her deal must be passed at all costs.

On Tuesday night she cut a very different figure. Calmer, restrained, conciliatory. She offered compromise and for the first time offered substantial changes to her deal and asked for urgent talks with Jeremy Corbyn to chart them.

She has, perhaps for the first time, accepted changes in her Brexit strategy. For once, something has changed.

PM offers to sit down with Jeremy CorbynTheresa May makes her pitch to end the Brexit logjam

She is making it yet clearer that she will not permit no deal.

She is, for the first time, attempting to nationalise Brexit by reaching out to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and making it clear that the political declaration, our future relationship, is up for grabs.

And she went yet further, saying that if she and Mr Corbyn cannot reach agreement then she will hand over the job to parliament to try to reach a decision on the future relationship.

She has accepted a further extension of Article 50 might be necessary.

Rhetorically, the shift is starker still. Having previously tried only to keep the Conservative Party together, to exclude the rest of parliament, she talked now of national unity, in the national interest.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 2: British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a press conference outside Downing Street on April 2, 2019 in London, England. Cabinet Ministers have held a two-part meeting in Downing Street today. Last night MPs still couldn't decide an alternative to the Prime Minister's Brexit Deal in the latest round of indicative votes. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Theresa May wants to explore further options with Jeremy Corbyn in order to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.

At the eleventh hour, for those who have long wanted her to transcend party interest and talk only of country, she has finally done so.

But the true test of statecraft is in deeds, not words. We are yet to see if she will compromise on her fabled red lines, yet to see if she is truly prepared to lessen Conservative Party objectives.

Much will depend on the attitude of Jeremy Corbyn. He will likely find it hard to resist his party’s demand that any deal is put back to the people in the a ratification referendum.

That will be a tough pill for May to swallow; likewise cabinet resignations are highly likely, especially from putative leadership candidates, desperate to prove their Brexit credentials.

If the PM is serious about fashioning a compromise, she may have to see much of her party fall around her. And given that, we cannot be assured, with May’s career finished, that her settlement will endure, that a future Tory leader will adhere to any agreement reached in parliament.

The prime minister has so rarely demonstrated the agility that has been required to execute Brexit; when political pirouettes have been needed, she has remained rigid, as politically awkward as her African dancing. On Tuesday night she actually, at last, moved.

It’s now up to Jeremy Corbyn to decide if he wishes to join her on this, what is surely, her last dance.

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