Brexit talks to resume amid possible detente between Tories and Labour
EU to remain resolute on the backstop as Conservatives extend olive branch to Corbyn
Mr Barnier will re-emphasise the EU’s determination not to reopen the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, but will signal a willingness to discuss again the terms of the political declaration on the future relationship between the two.
The latest talks come after Mrs May’s Brexit deal was rejected by MPs in the House of Commons amid widespread opposition to the backstop, a provision within the agreement designed to avoid a hard Border in Ireland in any event post-Brexit.
There is no sense in Brussels of any wavering in support for the backstop or in EU opposition to a possible unilateral exit mechanism from the provision for the UK.
British prime minister Theresa May is expected to seek more time for the talks, ahead of House of Commons votes scheduled for Thursday on the way forward on Brexit if no new deal is reached by Wednesday.
The opposition Labour Party has put down a motion calling for another meaningful vote on Mrs May’s Brexit deal before the end of the month.
An olive branch is being extended by the Conservative minority government to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as Mrs May struggles to put together a Commons majority to pass a Brexit deal.
There are now less than 50 days until the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU, on March 29th.
I am looking forward to meeting @SteveBarclay in Brussels on Mon evening. I will listen to how the UK sees the way through. The EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. But I will reaffirm our openness to rework the Political Declaration in full respect of #EUCO guidelines.— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) February 8, 2019
Welcoming Mr Corbyn’s letter last week on resolving the current impasse – which toned down his party’s Brexit demands and has been widely welcomed in Brussels – housing secretary James Brokenshire told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC on Sunday that the government would respond formally to it.
“We want to continue discussions,” he said.
Critical, though in unusually muted terms, of the Labour stance on trade and free movement, Mr Brokenshire pointed out that Mr Corbyn’s commitment to permanent customs union membership shared common ground with the proposals in the political declaration Mrs May is championing.
“On this issue of the customs union,” Mr Brokenshire said, “I think that what we would point to is that the fact that the political declaration, and what’s already been negotiated about customs arrangements, is all about this – the customs union – in terms of no tariffs, no quotas, no restrictions, and indeed our ability to be able to conduct our trade internationally. I think that’s the point.”
He said they would listen to Mr Corbyn about why the Labour leader did not think what had been agreed was sufficient.
Mr Brokenshire, a former Northern Ireland secretary, reiterated what he said was the British government’s absolute determination to uphold “our commitments to the Good Friday Agreement”, and specified the need for a backstop insurance policy.
Speaking later on the programme, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson welcomed the commitment to dialogue about his party’s “serious offer”.
Mr Watson acknowledged that Labour’s demand for a say on EU trade deals and insistence on free movement could be problematic, but argued that acceptance by the government of a customs union which could clearly command a majority in the Commons could be the basis of a deal with a Brussels who could then be more forthcoming.
The EU has said that if the UK moves on its Brexit red lines it may also find new room for manoeuvre.
Meanwhile, opposition calls for the sacking of transport secretary Chris Grayling were renewed over the weekend following the announcement that his department’s £13.8 million (about €16 million) ferry contract with Seaborne Freight, a company with no ships, for a no-deal Brexit had been cancelled.
Here, Minister of State at the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy said he believed a deal could be done “very late” in the Brexit negotiation process. He said Brexiteers “100 per cent believe that our European partners will roll over on us and abandon us if it looks like there will be a no-deal scenario”.
He told RTÉ the EU “will not drop us”, pointing out that the bloc is even more supportive privately than it is in public.
A Government source said the focus this week would remain firmly on Westminster.