Fury over May’s plan to reach compromise with Corbyn

PM to ask for short delay to Brexit and seek common approach with Labour leader

British prime minister Theresa May: signalled that she would drop some of her negotiating red lines as she sought a compromise on the political declaration setting out the future relationship between Britain and the EU. Photograph: Jack Taylor/PA Wire

Theresa May faced uproar within her Conservative party on Tuesday night after she offered to work with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a common approach to Brexit. Speaking in Downing Street after a seven-hour cabinet meeting, the prime minister said she would ask the EU for a short delay to Brexit rather than leave without a deal next week.

She said the withdrawal agreement, which includes the Northern Ireland backstop, could not be changed. But she signalled that she would drop some of her negotiating red lines as she sought a compromise on the political declaration setting out the future relationship between Britain and the EU.

She said the ideal outcome would be for her and Mr Corbyn to agree an approach that they could put to MPs for approval and she would then take to next week’s emergency meeting of the European Council in Brussels.

“However, if we cannot agree on a single unified approach, then we would instead agree a number of options for the future relationship that we could put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue,” she said.

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“Crucially, the government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House. But to make this process work, the opposition would need to agree to this too.”

Further round

MPs rejected four alternatives to the prime minister’s Brexit deal on Monday night, but they are expected to engage in a further round of indicative votes next Monday. Mr Corbyn, who was not given advance notice of the prime minister’s statement, said he was “very happy” to meet her, adding that he would set no limits ahead of their meeting.

Hardline Brexiteers reacted with fury to what Jacob Rees-Mogg described as an attempt to overturn the referendum by doing a deal with the “socialist” Labour leader.

“This is all about getting further and further away from the Brexit people voted for, which is very serious,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

In Dublin, Mrs May's move was also greeted with caution

Ministers met in Downing Street for more than seven hours on Tuesday to discuss how to proceed with Brexit following MPs’ third rejection of the withdrawal agreement last Friday. A majority of ministers opposed a long extension to article 50, but almost all agreed that Mrs May should seek a short delay to pass a Brexit deal.

Long extension

The European Council said last month that Britain would leave without a deal on April 12th unless it sought and secured a long extension and agreed to hold European Parliament elections. But council president Donald Tusk gave a cautious response to Mrs May’s statement on Tuesday night.

“Even if, after today, we don’t know what the end result will be, let us be patient,” he said.

In Dublin, Mrs May’s move was also greeted with caution, but senior Government sources said her offer to co-operate with Labour and accept a soft Brexit would, if successful, make a no-deal outcome unlikely. But few expressed confidence that the prime minister would carry out the plan, and one senior official warned that passing the April 12th deadline without signalling that the UK would take part in European Parliament elections meant that no further extension would be possible.