Brexit: May’s cross-party overtures snag on no-deal stand-off

Prime minister resisting Corbyn’s demands that she drop no-deal ‘blackmail’ threat

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, speaks following Theresa May’s win in a confidence vote. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, speaks following Theresa May’s win in a confidence vote. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters

 

Theresa May’s belated engagement with opposition parties over Brexit ran into difficulties within minutes of its launch last night when Jeremy Corbyn refused to meet her until she ruled out leaving the European Union without a deal. The Labour leader’s spokesman described the threat of a no-deal Brexit as “a blackmail” that must be removed before meaningful talks about a new approach to Brexit could begin.

The prime minister is under pressure from within her own party and her cabinet, as well as opposition MPs, to rule out a no-deal Brexit. But her official spokesman said last night that she was unwilling to do so, and during the debate on Labour’s no-confidence motion in her government she reaffirmed the red lines she laid down in her Lancaster House speech two years ago.

“Our principles are clear: a deal that delivers a smooth and orderly exit, protecting our union, giving us control of our borders, laws and money and allowing us to operate an independent trade policy. These are what deliver on the will of the British people,” she said.

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Downing Street confirmed that the prime minister believes that an independent trade policy is incompatible with membership of a customs union. And her spokesman said she continues to believe that Britain should leave the EU on March 29th, which would appear to rule out an extension of the article 50 negotiating deadline.

‘Bewildering’ inflexibility

Labour’s Yvette Cooper said May’s inflexibility was bewildering in the light of Tuesday’s defeat of her Brexit deal by the largest margin in parliamentary history.

“The problem is that she seems to be talking as if she lost by 30 votes yesterday and not 230. Her refusal even to consider changing any of her red lines, when the EU, the Irish Government and others made it clear that the deal that she got was dependent on those red lines, is making this impossible,” Cooper said.

The prime minister’s caution about moving her red lines reflects the precariousness of her position even after surviving last night’s no-confidence vote. To win a majority for a Brexit deal she needs to make concessions that will secure the votes of opposition MPs who want a softer Brexit. But moving too far risks losing moderate Conservative Brexiteers and eliminates her chances of wooing back some hardliners who voted against her deal on Tuesday.

Despite their stand-off last night, May and Corbyn both oppose a no-deal Brexit but neither wants to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Between them they could unlock a majority in the House of Commons for a Brexit deal, and if they hesitate, MPs from both their parties will seek to create such a majority without them.

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