Brexit talks fail again as Government confirms Euro elections will go ahead

Cross-party Brexit talks have again failed to reach agreement, Labour has confirmed.

The news came after the Government’s official acceptance that it cannot get its Brexit deal through Parliament in time to avoid European elections on May 23.

Theresa May’s effective deputy David Lidington confirmed the elections will go ahead, but said the Government was “redoubling our efforts” to get an EU Withdrawal Agreement ratified by the start of July so the MEPs elected this month never have to take their seats.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey confirmed negotiations on a new Brexit deal that could win a parliamentary majority have still to bear fruit.

“Nothing has been agreed yet,” she said after a three-hour meeting. “Discussions today were very robust and we’re having further meetings this week where we hope to make some progress.

“The Government needs to move on its red lines and we expect to make compromises, but without a government that’s willing to compromise, it’s difficult to see how any agreement can be reached, and I think the Government is aware of that.

“There certainly is a willingness on both sides to move towards some sort of consensus and we certainly need to try.”

Brexit talks
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman and shadow chancellor John McDonnell arrive at the Cabinet Office (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But Ms Long-Bailey said there had been no movement towards a customs union, temporary or otherwise, and would only say another referendum was “one of many options”.

She said: “We haven’t had any movement or agreement on a customs union, certainly not today, but we will see what the rest of the week holds.

“Our policy position has not changed since the last Labour conference, where a public vote was one of many options on the table, certainly to avoid a Tory deal, a bad Tory Brexit or a no-deal situation.

“Certainly we’ve been exploring the issue of a confirmatory vote in these discussions, but as yet nothing has been agreed.”

Pressure on both sides to make progress was heightened by the parties’ poor performance in last week’s local elections, which both Conservative and Labour leaderships interpreted as a message from voters to get on with delivering Brexit.

Opinion polls
(PA Graphics)

Mrs May had been hoping the talks would deliver a compromise deal in time to allow her to call off the European Parliament elections.

But more than a month after the talks began, Mr Lidington acknowledged time is now too tight to get a Withdrawal Agreement Bill through both Houses of Parliament by the date of the poll.

Speaking at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, he said that, after its Withdrawal Agreement was rejected three times by MPs, the Government was trying to find “a way forward that has maximum possible support amongst politicians of all political parties”.

“What this now means, given how little time there is, is that it is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process before the date that is legally due for European parliamentary elections,” he said.

David Lidington
David Lidington (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place. But legally they do have to take place unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect, so those will now go ahead.

“But we will be redoubling our efforts and talks with MPs of all parties to try to make sure that the delay after that is as short as possible.

“Ideally we’d like to be in a situation where those MEPs never actually have to take their seat at European Parliament – certainly, to get this done and dusted by the summer recess.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “On the basis of advice in relation to parliamentary timetables, we will look to complete this ideally by June 30, but if not then, by summer recess.”

When Britain finally leaves the EU, the European Parliament will reduce from 751 MEPs to 705, with 27 of the UK’s 73 seats being distributed among the remaining member states.

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