Tory-Labour Brexit talks resume with May and Corbyn under pressure
Talks between the Government and Labour aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock will continue on Monday with both parties facing internal pressures ahead of European elections.
Tories fear the May 23 poll could result in an electoral mauling for Theresa May if she has not been able to deliver the Brexit that Britons voted for almost three years ago.
The contest is also forcing Labour to clarify its position on a second referendum, with Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s National Executive Committee under pressure from MPs and MEPs to back a vote on any Brexit deal.
Senior Tories have said they still hope the elections – and the threat posed by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – can be avoided if a compromise deal can get through Parliament before polling day, allowing the contest to be cancelled.
But Labour has played down the prospects of a breakthrough in the cross-party talks, accusing Mrs May of refusing to change her Brexit red lines.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey hit back at claims from the Conservatives that her side has been stalling, saying: “We’re certainly not dragging our heels.”
Further talks are expected between the two sides on Monday afternoon and the Labour frontbencher said: “I think the discussions so far have been productive, they’ve gone into a lot of detail, there seems to be a willingness on both sides to move towards some form of consensus.”
But she told Sky News: “As yet we haven’t seen the Government move on any of their red lines, we’re having further discussions this week and hopefully we’ll see some movement.”
Ms Long-Bailey will join shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman and senior aides in talks with Government counterparts on Monday.
A showdown over Labour’s position on a second referendum is expected at a meeting of its National Executive Committee on Tuesday, with senior MPs and MEPs lobbying members of the body to include a commitment to a public vote in the manifesto for the European election.
Some 115 MPs and MEPs signed a letter to NEC members organised by the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group urging them to explicitly back a referendum in the manifesto.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson used his Twitter account to urge followers to lobby NEC members to back a public vote.
And 22 Labour candidates in the European elections pledged to campaign for a referendum and then back efforts to remain in the EU.
But calls for a second referendum are divisive within the top ranks of the Labour movement, with concerns that the party could alienate voters in Leave-supporting heartlands.
Asked if a second referendum was one of Labour’s “red lines” in the talks with the Tories, Ms Long-Bailey said the party was “not being hugely prescriptive on the minute detail of specific elements because we are willing to compromise and we are willing to be flexible”.
The Tories want to avoid the May 23 election, if possible, with opinion polls suggesting Mrs May’s party lies a distant third behind Mr Farage’s Brexit Party and Labour.
Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis acknowledged “huge frustration” among grassroots members and activists as he pleaded with them to stick with their own party rather than Mr Farage’s.
“I fully appreciate the huge frustration that particularly our members and councillors have, that we haven’t left the EU yet and we might have to fight these elections at all. But if we do, I hope they’ll vote Conservative,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.