British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to meet EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Jeremy Corbyn (left) and his wife Laura Alvarez are seen ahead of a speech by Spanish King Felipe VI at the Palace of Westminster in London.
Jeremy Corbyn (left) and his wife Laura Alvarez are seen ahead of a speech by Spanish King Felipe VI at the Palace of Westminster in London.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will meet EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday (July 13), a move that risks further undermining Prime Minister Theresa May's fragile government.

A spokeswoman said the meeting "signals Labour's growing importance to the Brexit process in the wake of the general election" on June 8, when May's Conservatives lost their majority in the House of the Commons.

The vote left the prime minister fighting for both her job and her strategy to withdraw Britain from the European Union, amid signs of cabinet divisions over her plan for a clean break with the other 27 member states.

Corbyn's meeting is expected to last more than two hours, during which he and his shadow Brexit and interior ministers will set out Labour's plan.

"Labour is a government-in-waiting and we are ready to take up the responsibility for Brexit negotiations," the left-wing leader said ahead of the talks.

Barnier is also due to meet separately on Thursday with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones.

The Frenchman said the meetings were requested by the British politicians, insisting: "Of course, I will only negotiate with the UK government."

Scottish National Party leader Sturgeon wanted to stay in the EU and opposes May's plan to pull Britain out of Europe's single market as the price of controlling immigration from the bloc.

Labour, which won 262 seats in the 650-seat Commons, has accepted leaving the single market but wants a "jobs-first Brexit" that prioritises the economy.

It has also promised to guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit.

May says this would be dependent on reciprocal rights for around one million Britons abroad.

Corbyn also vowed to end the Conservatives' "megaphone diplomacy", two days after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the EU could "go whistle" for money owed by Britain on the divorce.

"We will conduct relations with our European neighbours respectfully and in the spirit of friendship," he said.

The Conservatives won 318 seats in the election, forcing them to form a minority government with the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which has ten seats.