Ministers to hold more talks with Labour to end Brexit impasse
Ministers are set to hold further talks with Labour in an attempt to break the deadlock on Brexit following the latest delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.
Theresa May made clear on Thursday she intended to bring back her Brexit deal to the Commons for a fourth time after EU leaders agreed to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process to October 31.
The Prime Minister met briefly with Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster when they agreed to continue efforts to find a common way forward.
The talks have been led by Mrs May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, but details of Fridays’ meeting were still being finalised.
No 10 is still hoping they can get a deal through Parliament in time to avoid the need for Britain to vote in elections to the European Parliament on May 23.
But during exchanges in the Commons, Mr Corbyn warned the Prime Minister she had to be prepared to compromise if the talks were to stand any chance of success.
Mrs May, however, is under growing pressure from Tory Brexiteers furious at the latest extension after she had promised repeatedly Britain would be out of the EU by March 29 – the original Brexit date.
In the Commons, she brushed off a call for her resignation by the veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash who accused her of an “abject surrender” to Brussels.
But senior Conservatives have warned the demands for her to go are only likely to intensify, particularly – as many now expect – the European elections do go ahead.
With the Commons having risen for a foreshortened Easter recess, Downing Street will be hoping for some respite as MPs return to their constituencies.
However there was further anger among Tories Brexiteers after it emerged the Government had shelved emergency planning for a no-deal Brexit following the latest extension.
It includes the dismantling of Operation Brock on the M20 in Kent to deal with potential lorry tailbacks from Dover caused by the need for new customs checks.
The decision was taken on Thursday at a meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, according to a leaked email seen by Sky News.
The message – said to have been sent to all civil servants in an unnamed “front line Brexit department” – said the suspension was taking place with “immediate effect”.
Downing Street said departments were taking “sensible decisions” about the timing of their no-deal preparations following the agreement by EU leaders to extend the Article 50 withdrawal process to October 31.
The Government has committed £4 billion to no-deal preparations, but some MPs believe the latest delay shows Mrs May was never prepared to countenance leaving without a deal.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, who is now deputy chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, accused the Government of acting out of “sheer spite”.
“Officials have worked exceptionally hard to deliver our preparedness and deserve better,” he tweeted.
According to Sky, the email said: “In common with the rest of government we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect.
“This morning, at a meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, we agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “In light of this week’s developments, departments will make sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of this work is progressing given that the date we leave the EU has changed, but we will absolutely continue to make all necessary preparations.”