MUCH of the early criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was exaggerated, but the growing anxiety about his position on Brexit is legitimate.

In preparing for the next set of talks with EU leaders, the Conservatives are presiding over a shambles of epic proportions. Theresa May’s Cabinet cannot agree on a negotiating position and is no closer to working out a formal position on trade, immigration and the border with Ireland.

Talks will begin later this year with the UK at a severe disadvantage: the EU will be relatively united, while May and her colleagues will be at each other’s throats.

Brexit is the issue on which Labour should be heaping misery onto the Tory Government and using it as a platform to build a sizeable lead over the Conservatives.

Corbyn’s position should be obvious. He should resist a hard Brexit at all costs. Critics will say that staying in the Customs Union will prevent the UK from entering into new trade deals, but our future lies with Europe, not New Zealand.

Corbyn could put real pressure on May over Brexit, head a parliamentary coalition backing the Single Market, and steer the country towards a soft landing. He could even bring down the Government.

He is instead tying himself to a policy that is pleasing nobody in his party and annoying the voters who flocked to him last year. He wants to stay in the Single Market, but only temporarily, and seems unwilling to endorse a soft Brexit.

His conflicted policy is an attempt to appease two different groups. He is trying to placate metropolitan voters who are instinctively pro-Remain while at the same time satisfying poorer voters, particularly in the North of England, who backed Leave.

This leads Labour into taking contorted positions such as backing “a” customs union, rather than the trade regime we are currently part of. It is the sort of triangulation he would have called out during the Blair years.

Scottish Labour’s position is little better. New leader Richard Leonard could publicly urge Corbyn to change tack, but instead he toes the UK Labour line.

Our stories today amplify the concerns. STUC leader Grahame Smith has criticised the “lukewarm” approach to the EU adopted by Leonard and Corbyn, and has called for change.

Kezia Dugdale has also said she quit as Scottish Labour leader partly due to dissatisfaction with Corbyn’s unenthusiastic approach to the EU.

Corbyn is letting the Tories off the hook on what is a looming disaster for the UK and its economy. He should be 20 points ahead in the opinion polls, but is only neck and neck with a divided and weak party.

He should drop his euro-scepticism and unashamedly back a soft Brexit and spare the country from decades of austerity.