May’s hopes of Brexit compromise deal with Labour hit the rocks
Theresa May’s hopes of a Brexit compromise with Jeremy Corbyn are on the brink of collapse, after Labour accused the Prime Minister of refusing to change her deal.
Downing Street offered further talks this weekend after efforts to find a breakthrough stalled, but Labour said Mrs May had to come forward with “genuine changes”.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Government was refusing to consider amendments to the Political Declaration – the document setting out the framework for a future relationship with the European Union.
One of Labour’s key demands has been a customs union with the EU after Brexit, something it would want to be written into the document.
But Downing Street contradicted Sir Keir, insisting the Government was prepared to make changes to the Political Declaration.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister faces resistance from the EU to her call for a further short delay to Brexit, potentially keeping the UK in the bloc until June 30.
And she also faces further fury from Conservative Brexiteers over the prospect of an extension to Article 50 which would require the UK to take part in the May 23 European Parliament elections.
Mrs May wants to terminate any extension before the European polls if she is able to get a deal through Parliament, something she had been hoping Mr Corbyn’s Labour MPs could help with.
But Sir Keir, who has been playing a prominent role in the talks with ministers, was left frustrated by a letter from the Government setting out its position in black and white.
He said: “So far, the Government isn’t proposing any changes to the deal. In particular, it’s not countenancing any changes to the actual wording of the Political Declaration.
“Now obviously that’s disappointing; compromise requires change. We want the talks to continue and we’ve written in those terms to the Government, but we do need change if we’re going to compromise.”
But a Downing Street spokesman said: “We have made serious proposals in talks this week, and are prepared to pursue changes to the Political Declaration in order to deliver a deal that is acceptable to both sides.
“We are ready to hold further detailed discussions this weekend in order to seek any such changes in the run-up to European Council on Wednesday.
“The Government is determined to work constructively to deliver the Brexit people voted for, and avoid participation in the European parliamentary elections.”
The Prime Minister wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk on Friday requesting the delay to Brexit, which would otherwise happen at 11pm on April 12.
Mrs May said she will seek to secure ratification of the deal before European elections on May 23, but will make “responsible preparations” for the UK to take part in the polls if that does not prove possible.
The request will be considered at an emergency EU summit on April 10, where it requires the unanimous agreement of the leaders of the remaining 27 member states.
EU sources said Mr Tusk is recommending a longer postponement of one year, with a break clause in the case of earlier ratification, in a so-called “flextension” deal.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said a longer delay to Brexit “might make more sense” than the UK seeking “rolling extensions where there is an extension every couple of weeks or every couple of months because that just adds to the uncertainty for citizens, for businesses and for farmers”.
But an extension is not automatic, with France one of the EU countries most cautious about agreeing to it.
French Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin said an extension would require the UK to put forward a proposal with “clear and credible political backing” and “in the absence of such a plan, we would have to acknowledge that the UK chose to leave the EU in a disorderly manner”.
Mrs May has already obtained one extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process, postponing the date of Brexit from March 29 to April 12.
Tory critics warned that the way Brexit was being handled could pose an “existential threat” to the party.
Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested the UK should retaliate to any long extension by using its continued membership to block moves towards closer EU integration.
“If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible,” he said.
Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, warned against taking part in European elections, telling the Daily Telegraph: “This is an existential threat to the Conservative Party. We have all seen the cut-up membership cards on social media.
“No-one will believe anything said in a manifesto we put out.”
Former minister Mark Francois told the BBC that Mrs May was “consorting with the enemy” by talking to Labour in the first place.
“Many Tory MPs are absolutely furious and a lot of them are writing to (1922 Committee chairman) Graham Brady saying she’s got to go.”