Swinson softens stance on Labour leader’s proposal

Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to avoid a no-deal Brexit by forming a temporary cross-party government led by the Labour leader gained some momentum on Thursday as pro-Remain MPs indicated their willingness to work with him.

Europhile Conservative MPs Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, Caroline Spelman and Guto Bebb — plus former Tory Nick Boles — said they were prepared to meet Mr Corbyn after he outlined his plan in a letter to them and smaller opposition parties on Wednesday.

And Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, who initially rejected Mr Corbyn’s plan, later softened her stance by requesting a meeting with the Labour leader to discuss “how our parties can work together” to stop a no-deal Brexit.

However, other MPs expressed scepticism that Mr Corbyn would be able to secure the backing of the House of Commons to oust prime minister Boris Johnson in a vote of confidence before then forming a temporary government to delay Brexit beyond October 31 and call a general election.

Ms Swinson came under increasing pressure to backtrack after dismissing Mr Corbyn’s plan as “nonsense”.

Sarah Wollaston, a former Conservative MP who defected to the Lib Dems on Wednesday, told The Guardian that a caretaker government led by Mr Corbyn may be the “lesser of two evils”.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, called on Ms Swinson to “rethink” and said it would be “daft” to reject Mr Corbyn’s plan outright.

“That is one way of avoiding a no-deal Brexit,” said Ms Sturgeon. “It’s not the only one. We should be exploring all options and we shouldn’t be ruling anything out.”

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In response, Ms Swinson agreed to meet Mr Corbyn, although she insisted his plan was not viable because Conservative MPs would be reluctant to make him prime minister.

“Regardless of how my party were to vote . . . in order for you to command the confidence of the House, at least eight Conservative MPs would need to support you in taking office,” she said in a letter to Mr Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn’s efforts were boosted by some Europhile Conservative MPs.

Mr Bebb, who is campaigning for a second Brexit referendum, said that “a short-term Jeremy Corbyn government is less damaging than the generational damage that would be caused by a no-deal Brexit”.

But one pro-Remain Tory MP said that while it was wise to engage with Mr Corbyn, he did not believe the Labour leader could win a confidence vote in order to form a temporary government.

“The question is whether Labour will support another candidate if it’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn has not got the numbers and I don’t think he has,” added the MP.

One independent MP said parliament should be focusing on passing legislation to try to force Mr Johnson to ask the EU for a further Brexit delay.

He added there was no certainty Mr Corbyn could form a temporary government, leaving Mr Johnson free to take Britain out of the EU without an agreement on October 31.


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