May says compromise with Labour the only way of ensuring UK leaves EU
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom insists it would be utterly unacceptable for Britain to participate in European elections
In a video statement on Sunday, the British prime minister said there was a risk that Brexit could “slip through our fingers” after MPs rejected her deal three times and ruled out leaving the EU without a deal.
“There are lots of things on which I disagree with the Labour party on policy issues. But on Brexit I think there are some things we agree on: ending free movement, ensuring we leave with a good deal, protecting jobs, protecting security.
“And so we are talking. Can we find a way through this that ensures that we can get a good deal and a deal agreed through parliament? It’ll mean compromise on both sides, but I believe that delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us.”
The prime minister and the Labour leader met last Wednesday, and their negotiators held lengthy discussions at the cabinet office on Thursday and Friday. Labour has described the talks as disappointing, complaining that the government had not yet offered to soften its red lines, which demand that Britain should leave the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the Labour negotiators, said further meetings were planned for this week.
“The overall mood is quite a positive and hopeful one,” she told the BBC. “The sad thing is at the moment we haven’t seen overall any real changes to the deal, but we are hopeful that will change in coming days, and we are willing to continue the talks, as we know the government are.”
Mrs May wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk asking to delay Britain’s departure from the EU – which is due to take place at 11pm next Friday – until June 30th. All EU leaders must agree any extension unanimously at Wednesday’s emergency meeting of the European Council in Brussels.
A cross-party bill ruling out a no-deal Brexit and obliging the prime minister to seek an extension to the article 50 negotiating period is due to complete all its stages in the House of Lords and return to the Commons on Monday before receiving royal assent.
Under its terms Mrs May will have to move a motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday setting out the length of the extension she is seeking. MPs will be able to amend the motion to change the date, and if EU leaders on Wednesday insist on a different date, the prime minister will have to return to the Commons on Thursday to seek MPs’ approval for it.
The government must also take the necessary legislative steps this week to set the date for European Parliament elections on May 23rd.
In her letter to Mr Tusk the prime minister said she hoped to ratify the withdrawal agreement and political declaration before May 22nd so that Britain would not have to take part in the elections.
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who campaigned for Brexit in 2016, said it would be utterly unacceptable for Britain to participate in European Parliament elections.
“It would just be appalling. You know, three years on from the referendum and there we are fighting European elections. It’s utterly unacceptable. And I think we should go a very long way to avoid doing that, which is why again we’re trying to find a way forward that parliament can support before it comes to April 11th, which is the deadline for the Order in Council that sparks the European elections,” she told the BBC.
Ms Leadsom suggested the government could compromise on Labour’s demand that Britain should remain in a customs union with the EU. But she ruled out putting the deal to a confirmatory referendum, as many Labour MPs are demanding.
“It is an attempt by those who are on the Remain side of the argument to run it again, to put it back to the people, with, by the way, Remain on the ballot paper. It is to try and rerun the referendum. We had a people’s vote in 2016, and we have to do what we were told to do.”