Brexit talks with Labour will not continue ‘for the sake of it’, says No 10

Downing Street has warned talks with Labour to end the Brexit deadlock will not continue “for the sake of it” after EU leaders granted a second delay to Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

Theresa May returned to face her critics after another round of late night diplomacy in Brussels saw the EU set a Halloween deadline of October 31 for the UK finally to reach agreement on the terms of its withdrawal.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister brushed off a call to resign from veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash who described her acceptance of the latest extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process as an “abject surrender”.

However senior Tories warned the pressure on her to go would “increase dramatically” amid frustration among MPs that there is still no certainty as to when Britain will leave.

Mrs May told MPs that under the terms of the extension it was still possible Britain could avoid voting in European elections on May 23 if Parliament was able to pass a deal before that date.

However she acknowledged that reaching agreement in talks with Labour “will not be easy” as it would require compromise on both sides, but said that it was in the “national interest” that they should try.

“This is not the normal way of British politics – and it is uncomfortable for many in both the Government and opposition parties,” she said.

(PA Graphics)

“But however challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the House is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both front benches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for.

Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would continue to engage “constructively” in the negotiations which he described as “serious, detailed and ongoing”, but warned ministers would have to compromise if they were to succeed.

He hit out at what he said was an apparent attempt by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to “scupper” the talks by trying to rule out a customs union – a key Labour demand.

Mrs May however suggested the two sides were not as far apart on the issue as was sometimes claimed.

Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel share a smile
Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel share a smile at the European Council summit (Olivier Hoslet/AP)

“I think there is actually more agreement in relation to a customs union than is often given credit for when different language is used,” she said.

A No 10 source said they would continue to pursue the dialogue as long as they believed it was making progress, but added: “Bluntly, we won’t continue to talk for the sake of it.”

Mrs May said that if they could not agree a single unified approach, they would seek to agree a “small number” of options which they would put to the House for MPs to vote on.

“As I have made clear before, the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House. But to make this process work, the opposition would need to agree to this too,” she said.

Following her Commons statement, Mrs May and Mr Corbyn held a “short meeting” at Westminster when they agreed to continue the talks process, Labour said.

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