Brexit holds up UK Labour split — for now

LONDON — Brexit could yet save Jeremy Corbyn from a Labour split — or at least delay the breakaway.

Weeks of reports about Corbyn’s participation in a memorial ceremony for Palestinian militants, about his closeness to terrorist groups and about deep-rooted anti-Semitism in the party have taken their toll on Labour MPs who were not supporters of the leader but had reluctantly accepted he is in charge.

A significant number have now concluded he is a national security threat who has created a safe space for hatred of Jews in the party, three MPs opposed to the leadership told POLITICO.

But many of the MPs who are most vociferously opposed to Corbyn are also the most passionately opposed to Brexit. Their aim is to keep Britain as close to the EU as possible — or even stop Brexit altogether.

Splitting the party now, these MPs say, risks dividing opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May at the most critical point in the Brexit process, potentially putting Britain on course for a harder exit than almost all Labour MPs are prepared to accept.

If Labour can stick together and present a united front on Brexit, that will increase the pressure on May — as leader of a divided party with fragile parliamentary support — to tack toward a soft Brexit to get a deal with Brussels through the House of Commons. If Labour splits apart, May could have more room for maneuver as she aims to wrap up the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU.

Anti-Corbyn MPs say the glue keeping them bound to the Labour Party for now is Brexit.

The three leading anti-Corbyn MPs who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity said as many as a few dozen are now seriously considering resigning from the Labour group in parliament to sit as independents until the next general election.

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