Brexit: Few expect imminent breakthrough after Labour/Conservative talks

Negotiators to meet again Friday as Downing Street calls talks ‘detailed and productive’

 Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer departs the Cabinet Office following cross party talks in London on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer departs the Cabinet Office following cross party talks in London on Thursday. Photograph: EPA

 

Negotiators on behalf of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will meet again on Friday after four and a half hours of talks on Thursday that Downing Street described as “detailed and productive”. But with both leaders under pressure from within their parties over their approach to Brexit, few at Westminster are expecting an imminent breakthrough.

Most Labour MPs and activists want Corbyn to demand that any deal that emerges from the negotiations and is approved by Parliament should be put to a confirmatory referendum. But some MPs from heavily Leave-voting seats and members of the Labour leader’s inner circle oppose a second referendum.

The prime minister, already accused of betrayal by Conservative backbenchers for seeking to pass a Brexit deal with Labour votes, risks an insurrection if she agrees to another referendum as well as Labour’s demand for a customs union with the EU.

In her statement on Tuesday inviting Corbyn to work with her, May anticipated the possibility that the two sides could not agree a common position.

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“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.

“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.”

Prime minister’s questions

At prime minister’s questions on March 27th, the Labour leader asked if “a consensus alternative plan emerges across the House, will the prime minister accept that decision of the House and accept it as the basis for the UK’s negotiating position with the EU”. So he should be able to agree to accept the outcome of indicative votes if Labour and the government agree on which options will be put before MPs.

The House of Commons broke up earlier than planned on Thursday when water started leaking through the roof and MPs will not be back at Westminster until Monday. It is almost certainly too late to agree the options, hold indicative votes and put the most popular option to a “meaningful vote” before next Wednesday’s emergency meeting of the European Council.

If the process is under way, however, it might be enough to justify the article 50 extension May will request from the other 27 EU leaders.

“What we are obviously working towards is being in a position to set out clarity to the European Council that there is a clear path in parliament going forward which will allow the UK to leave with a deal and to ratify that deal as soon as possible,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday.

The prime minister is likely to seek a long extension that would require Britain to prepare for European Parliament elections on May 23rd. But she will argue that the extension should end as soon as Britain ratifies a withdrawal agreement and is ready to leave the EU. And Downing Street says the government can cancel next month’s elections at one day’s notice.

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