May tells Corbyn she cannot rule out a no-deal Brexit

British prime minister meets MPs from all sides of the debate in Downing Street

 Labour  leader Jeremy Corbyn winks to a colleague during  a political rally  in Hastings, southeast England, on Thursday. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn winks to a colleague during a political rally in Hastings, southeast England, on Thursday. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

 

British prime minister Theresa May has told British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn she cannot rule out a no-deal Brexit despite his refusal to meet her for talks unless she takes that option off the table.

Mrs May said under EU treaties Britain would automatically leave the EU on March 29th unless it had agreed a deal or chose to cancel Brexit by revoking its article 50 notification.

“So there are two ways to avoid no deal: either vote for a deal, in particular a withdrawal agreement that has been agreed with the EU, or to revoke article 50 and overturn the referendum result. I believe it would be wrong to overturn the referendum result,” she said in a letter to Mr Corbyn.

Mrs May met MPs from all sides of the Brexit debate in Downing Street on Thursday, including Conservative Brexiteers and advocates for a second referendum and Labour MPs who want to remain in the single market and the customs union.

She has characterised the meetings as part of an effort to determine the will of parliament after her Brexit deal was rejected overwhelmingly on Tuesday and ahead of a debate on how to proceed scheduled for January 29th.

Speaking to Labour supporters in Hastings on Thursday morning, however, Mr Corbyn dismissed the exercise as a stunt.

“I am quite happy to talk. But the starting point for any talks about Brexit must be that the threat of a disastrous no-deal outcome is ruled out. If she won’t accept the will of parliament and take no-deal off the table, it will show that she simply isn’t serious about reaching a deal.

“With no-deal still on the table the prime minister would enter into phoney talks just to run down the clock and try to blackmail MPs to vote through her botched deal on a second attempt by threatening the country with the chaos of no-deal if they resist a second time.”

Invitations to talks

Mr Corbyn later called on Labour MPs not to accept invitations to talks with the government, but a number of prominent party figures ignored him.

Apart from the prime minister’s meetings in Downing Street, her de facto deputy David Lidington met MPs with diverse views about Brexit. Some MPs who want a second referendum were told that it would take a year to prepare for another Brexit vote – more than twice as long as most experts estimate.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the government’s estimate was wrong, and that a referendum could be held as early as next May.

“One of the useful outcomes from the first round of the discussions with the government was around the practicalities of a people’s vote. These discussions brought to the surface the complete misunderstanding in government circles about the timeline to bring it about.”