Jeremy Corbyn has blasted Theresa May’s offer of cross-party Brexit talks as a “stunt” – as he was applauded by Labour supporters for saying that a second referendum was still an option.
In front of a crowd of around 200 activists in Hastings, he said the Prime Minister had made no “serious attempt to engage with the new reality that is needed” to get a Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament.
In a direct message to Mrs May, Mr Corbyn said: “Take no-deal off the table now please, Prime Minister.”
He reiterated Labour’s preference for a general election and a Brexit deal on its terms, including a permanent customs union, close links to the single market and protections for workers and the environment.
But, to clapping from the floor, he added: “If the Government remains intransigent, if support for Labour’s alternative is blocked for party advantage and the country is facing the potential disaster of no-deal, our duty will then be to look at other options which we set out in our confidence motion, including that of a public vote.”
However, taking questions after his speech at the venue on Hastings’ seafront, he left open the question of which side Labour would campaign on in a public vote.
“If a second referendum should take place, then obviously the party will decide what role we will play in that and what our view would be,” he said.
“But I can’t really go along with the idea it should simply be a re-run of what happened in 2016. There has to be a discussion about the options that we put forward and we’ve put forward the three options that I’ve outlined.”
Mr Corbyn is now the only Westminster party leader who has not held discussions with Mrs May, after she held out an olive branch across the Commons on Wednesday.
Speaking in the heart of an East Sussex constituency that voted 55%-45% in favour of Leave in 2016, he said: “Last night’s offer of talks with party leaders turned out to be simply a stunt, not the serious attempt to engage with the new reality that is needed.”
He added: “I say to the Prime Minister again: I am quite happy to talk but the starting point for any talks about Brexit must be that the threat of a disastrous no-deal outcome is ruled out, taken off the table, and we can talk about the future of the plans that we will put forward and the future relationship with Europe.”
A reporter who asked Mr Corbyn whether other Labour MPs were also barred from meeting Mrs May or other Ministers was met with audible discontent from Labour activists.
Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn were among those seen going to the Cabinet Office for talks.
Speaking on the way in, Mr Benn said: “The really important question is, there’s an open door, is there an open mind to a change?”
Ms Cooper added: “We want to see if the Government is actually prepared to make some changes.
“They’ve lost the vote by 230. That’s obviously a very substantial loss.”
A smiling John Mann, a Leave-supporting Labour MP and long-term critic of Mr Corbyn, was spotted coming out of the Cabinet Office in Whitehall at around 12.20pm, an hour after the leader’s speech.
Another backbench Labour critic of Mr Corbyn, the east London MP Mike Gapes, criticised his decision not to talk to Mrs May without preconditions, tweeting: “Apparently Corbyn is prepared to hold talks with Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad and Iran without preconditions. But not with the UK Prime Minister. Why?”
Mr Corbyn said he had written to the Prime Minister on Thursday setting out his position.
He confirmed that Labour will table amendments to Monday’s motion, putting forward its preferred solution of a customs union with a voice for the UK in future EU trade deals, a close single market relationship and protections for rights.
He held open the possibility of an extension of the Article 50 negotiation period, saying: “Quite clearly, if no agreement has been reached within the time it could be implemented by the end of March, the issue of extending the exit date, extending Article 50, does come into play.
“Indications are that that may well be the case.”