LONDON — The U.K.’s Labour party has a problem.
Make no mistake: underneath the gloved hand of friendship extended to its leader Jeremy Corbyn by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday was a clenched fist primed to punch the opposition party right where it hurts.
For almost three years, the Labour leader has performed a careful balancing act to keep his party united: supporting Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union in principle while opposing the version negotiated by the prime minister.
The calculation is simple. Labour supporters are overwhelming opposed to Brexit, but the constituencies it needs to take power are overwhelmingly in favor. The leadership does not believe it can afford to be either purely anti-Brexit or purely pro.
May’s offer to the Labour leader to help shape Brexit is designed to finally push Corbyn from his high-wire tightrope walk.
“I’m really depressed about it […] It’s a good move for her. It forces us to choose.” — Labour MP
The prime minister wants the Labour leader to decide. Is Labour a soft Brexit party or a second referendum Remain party?
Whichever way Corbyn jumps he risks alienating a significant chunk of his party, both in parliament and in the country at large.
“I’m really depressed about it,” said one Labour MP on condition of anonymity.