Corbyn vs May in critical Brexit showdown

Face-off: Corbyn previously told the prime minister that if she “can’t lead, she should leave”.

Will the latest Brexit battle destroy Theresa May? A Tory rebellion is brewing, Jeremy Corbyn smells blood, and the UK faces a momentous decision. The political fight of the century is here.

When Theresa May summoned her “war cabinet” to Chequers last week to thrash out an agreement on Brexit, nobody was quite sure how it would go. Ministers had their phones confiscated and were constantly moved around the old mansion for a slew of secretive meetings. One participant compared the event to a game of Cluedo. And with blustering Brexiteers at close quarters with less Eurosceptic colleagues, there was a high chance of political bloodshed.

In the end a fragile agreement was reached. And in a speech later this week Theresa May will publicly outline her new Brexit strategy, setting the stage for the greatest political battle of the century.

There is a serious possibility that May will be defeated, paving the way for Jeremy Corbyn to enter number ten. This would be a monumental shift in British politics — Corbyn widely seen as Labour’s most left-wing leader since Clement Attlee.

It all comes down to Brexit. May wants to remove Britain from the EU customs union following the split. However, the issue is tearing the Conservative Party in two. Whilst hard-line Brexiteers fiercely back the plan, MP Dominic Grieve claims a “broad swathe” of Tories want to stay in the customs union.

And they may have found some unlikely allies.

In a speech today, Jeremy Corbyn will announce a key policy change, declaring that a Labour government would keep the UK in an EU customs union. And if as few as 15 Tory rebels join Corbyn, May’s Brexit plans could be defeated in Parliament — possibly toppling her government.

In the end, it will come down to a battle for MPs’ votes. The question is whether May can convince potential rebels to vote with the party rather than their own principles on Brexit.

One thing in her favour is the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister. As James Blitz writes in the Financial Times, for any Tory to lend the Labour leader their support on such a crucial issue would be “deemed treason”.

So will Brexit really be the end of Theresa May?


The Tory tribe will rally, some say. Divisions on the EU have long festered in the Conservative Party, and the split is difficult for May to manage. But nothing unites the party quite like keeping Labour at bay — particularly with the nightmare prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. May will live to fight another day.

There is more at stake than party politics, others respond. Britain’s decision to leave the EU was the most historic moment in its modern political history. And the way it develops will determine Britain’s role in the world at large. Those brave enough to take this long view of history will have no problem defying the party line.

You Decide

  1. Who would you rather have as prime minister, Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May?
  2. Was the vote for Brexit a good decision?


  1. No doubt you have heard the word “Brexit” a lot on the news, but what is it all about? Write down as many words as you can think of which you associate with the term “Brexit”. Share them with your class and write up a word map on the board. Are the words mostly positive or negative? What overall impression does the word map give?
  2. Watch the videos in Become An Expert to find out some more about Brexit — take notes as you work through them. Now give yourself 15 minutes to write a response to this question: “What does Brexit mean and how will it affect the UK?”

Some People Say...

“Brexit will be the beginning of a bright new chapter. Our best days really do lie ahead of us.”

Theresa May

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Rebel Tory MPs have tabled an amendment to the government’s trade bill, proposing that the Britain must stay in an EU customs union after Brexit. It is voting on this amendment which will either solidify or destroy May’s current policy for leaving the customs union. Currently May only has a parliamentary majority of 13 seats.
What do we not know?
We do not know when the vote will be had, and there have been reports of the government delaying it for fear of a parliamentary defeat. Nor do we know how many (if any) Conservative MPs will rebel against May and vote for the amendment. A strong deterrent for these individuals is the possibility of a subsequent general election and Labour victory.

Word Watch

A country house built in the 16th century. Since 1921 it has served as the official country home of the prime minister.
Less Eurosceptic
For example, foreign secretary Boris Johnson and chancellor Philip Hammond have reportedly had several disputes concerning Brexit strategy.
Clement Attlee
Labour Party leader from 1935 to 1955, and British prime minister from 1945 to 1951. During his tenure as prime minister he nationalised many public services and industries, and led the creation of the National Health Service.
Customs union
An agreement which defines the terms of trade between member nations. For more information see the resources in Become An Expert.
Hard-line Brexiteers
A notable group of such MPs make up the European Research Group (ERG). They are seen as one faction of the Conservative Party pressurising May to pursue a “hard” Brexit.
If May’s plans to take Britain out of the customs union were voted down, it is possible that MPs would trigger a no confidence vote. If Theresa May were to lose, a general election would almost certainly be called.

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