Hard Brexiteers pour cold water on possible May-Corbyn compromise

Cross-party group puts forward Bill obliging prime minister to seek lengthy Brexit delay

Hardline Brexiteers have reacted angrily to Theresa May's offer to seek a common approach to Brexit with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group (ERG) of backbench Conservative Brexiteers, condemned Mrs May's seeking to pass a deal with "socialist" votes.

“You do find that leaders who decide to go with the opposition rather than their own party find their own party doesn’t plainly follow. I’m not sure this is the way to conciliate people to persuade them if they haven’t moved already to move at this stage. I think getting the support of a known Marxist is not likely to instil confidence in Conservatives,” he said.

No minister threatened to resign during Tuesday's seven-hour British cabinet meeting and all but four agreed that the prime minister should seek a short extension rather than leaving the EU without a deal on April 12th. But Boris Johnson said their decision to give Mr Corbyn a say over Brexit meant that Britain's trade policy and key law-making powers would be "handed over to Brussels" with no say for Westminster.

‘Very bad deal’

“The PM and cabinet have concluded that any deal is better than no deal, and this is truly a very bad deal indeed – one that leaves us being run by the EU. I can under no circumstances vote for a deal involving a customs union as I believe that does not deliver on the referendum,” he said.


A cross-party group of MPs led by Labour's Yvette Cooper and Conservative Oliver Letwin have put forward a Bill that would oblige the prime minister to seek a lengthy delay to Brexit. The MPs will attempt to complete all the Bill's stages in the House of Commons on Wednesday before sending it to the Lords.

The Bill does not specify how long the extension should be, but it allows for an amendable motion so that MPs can determine its length in a vote. This would be binding on the prime minister and if the EU were to propose a different length, MPs would be allowed to vote on that.

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.

Direct rule

Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill, who also serves as Mrs May's national security adviser, has warned ministers of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, including the return of direct rule to Northern Ireland. In a 14-page letter leaked to the Daily Mail, Sir Mark said leaving the EU without a deal would see food prices rise by 10 per cent and companies collapse or get bailed out by the government, and hamper the ability of police and security services to keep the country safe.

“The UK would forfeit access to criminal justice levers. None of our mitigation measures would give the UK the same security capabilities as our current ones. A no-deal exit would enormously increase pressure on our law and security authorities and on our judicial system. The UK would be less safe as a result of this,” he wrote.

The DUP in a statement said Mrs May’s “lamentable handling” of the negotiations with the EU meant she had failed to deliver a sensible Brexit deal that works for all parts of the UK. It said it remained “to be seen if sub-contracting out the future of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn, someone whom the Conservatives have demonised for four years, will end happily”.

"We want the result of the referendum respected, and just as we joined the common market as one country we must leave the EU as one country," it added. The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in a tweet said he was glad Ms May "has decided to ditch the ERG and DUP version of Brexit". He said it was really important now that we see "real leadership" from across the Westminster parliament. "The bottom line is still clear – the Good Friday agreement and frictionless border needs to be protected," said Mr Eastwood.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times