The EU is intensifying its preparations for a no-deal Brexit amid heightened fears in European capitals that Jeremy Corbyn will order his MPs to vote down any deal struck in Brussels, a leaked document reveals.
Labour’s stated goal to reject Theresa May’s deal in order to spark a general election has provoked a rush of activity in Brussels, where the party’s plans are regarded as one of the substantial risks to the negotiations.
Shortly after Corbyn ends his leader’s speech at the Labour party conference, one of the European commission’s most senior officials is to address EU ambassadors on contingency planning in the event of a breakdown in talks, or the likely failure of the UK parliament to ratify any agreement struck in Brussels.
A leaked document circulated among ambassadors in Brussels before Wednesday’s meeting warns of the prospect of Labour combining with rebel Tory MPs to kill off a deal.
It says: “Preparedness work has to intensify in the months ahead at national as well as EU level, as uncertainty remains about the outcome of the negotiations and the ratification of a possible deal.”
Corbyn has confirmed that unless the agreement struck in Brussels can deliver “exactly the same benefits” as membership of the single market and the customs union, Labour would vote it down “in order to send the government – if it is still in office – straight back to the negotiating table”.
The shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said on Wednesday that it would take a miracle for Labour to support a deal brought back by May.
Corbyn is expected in Brussels on Thursday to meet the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to explain his position. But there is growing concern that Labour’s determination to unseat May could instead propel UK into a “cliff-edge” Brexit, throwing the continent into chaos.
On Tuesday Barnier, gave a downbeat analysis of the state of the negotiations during a private meeting with MEPs.
Afterwards, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament, Philippe Lamberts, told the Guardian: “I have zero trust in Labour, I am afraid to say. The Labour position is not to do with principles, but about tactical considerations. It is all about getting the government out of power whatever the cost.”
According to the leaked document the reality of a no-deal Brexit has also prompted the EU’s member states to go over the head of the European commission and assert their right to take a “political choices” on potential mini-deals with the UK to avoid the worst repercussions of such a scenario, including the grounding of flights between Britain and the EU.
The document says: “Contingency measures can only be triggered at a certain stage, and some political choices, eg as regards to the extent to which these measures should mitigate the effect of a disorderly withdrawal, will have to be made before the commission can provide possible answers.”
Earlier this month, Barnier reprimanded the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, after it emerged that the UK government had written to EU capitals to seek bilateral deals on transport, including aviation and haulage.
France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, has claimed the EU has higher considerations than the UK’s economic health to deal with and it would be “suicidal” for the bloc to soften its stance in relation to May’s Chequers proposals for the future relationship.
“I’m sorry to say it so callously: there is something more important for us than the future of the UK, and that’s the future of the EU,” he said. “Any decision that would give European citizens the feeling you can exit the EU and keep all the advantages would be suicidal, and we won’t make that decision.”