Cross-party talks on Brexit continue as MPs take their Easter break
Cross-party negotiations to try to break the Brexit deadlock were continuing in Whitehall on Friday, as Parliament began its delayed Easter holiday.
Theresa May’s effective deputy David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove were taking part in the talks for the Government side, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell was representing Labour.
The Prime Minister made clear on Thursday she intends to bring her Brexit deal back 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.
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.
The UK is now formally on track to hold elections, having informed the European authorities ahead of Friday’s deadline that it would be taking part in the ballots occurring across the continent from May 23-26.
However, it is possible for the vote to be cancelled right up to the day before polling if a withdrawal deal is agreed by MPs.
Preparations for the polls were stepping up a gear, with Nigel Farage launching his new Brexit Party in Coventry.
The former Ukip leader said the existing parties should “fear the electorate” who feel “betrayed” by the failure to deliver EU withdrawal almost three years after the 2016 referendum.
Mr Farage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have been betrayed and the fightback begins today.
“What we’re trying to do is launch a revolution in British politics and realign the party structure.”
During exchanges in the Commons on Thursday, 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.
With the Commons having risen for a shortened Easter recess, Downing Street will be hoping for some respite as MPs return to their constituencies.
However, there was further anger among Tory 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.
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.”