Theresa May tells Corbyn it is ‘impossible’ for her to rule out no-deal Brexit

Arlene Foster says backstop must be dealt with for there to be any progress on Brexit

Britain's main opposition Labour party could back a second Brexit referendum if its proposals for leaving the EU are shunned by the government and a no-deal scenario looks likely, leader Jeremy Corbyn has said. Video: Reuters

 

British prime minister Theresa May has said it is “impossible” for the British government to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

In a letter to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, Mrs May said it was “not within the government’s power” to guarantee no-deal, as this could only be done by securing parliament’s approval for a withdrawal agreement with the EU or by overturning the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, and she was not prepared to do the latter.

Mr Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, has snubbed talks offered by Mrs May to parliamentarians from all sides of the Brexit debate following the humiliating rejection of her Brexit deal with the EU in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

A number of Labour MPs defied a request from Mr Corbyn not to engage in the discussions, which were designed to find a plan on the issue which might command a majority in the House of Commons.

Mrs May has indicated that she is sticking to the “principles” behind her withdrawal agreement: taking back control of money, borders and laws and having an independent trade policy.

MPs attending the talks in the cabinet office and Downing Street were shown a civil service assessment suggesting it would take more than a year to stage a second referendum on EU membership, and Mrs May made it clear that a new public vote was not government policy.

The discussions took place as a new opinion poll showed a 12-point lead for staying in the EU if a fresh vote was held.

The YouGov survey for the People’s Vote campaign, conducted after Mrs May’s Brexit deal went down in a humiliating 230-vote defeat in the House of Commons, put Remain on 56 per cent against 44 per cent for Leave.

In the letter, Mrs May insisted her door remained open for talks with the Labour leader, but told him that his request that she rule out a no-deal Brexit “is an impossible condition because it is not within the government’s power to rule out no-deal”.

There was little sign of movement as a series of parliamentarians from both Leave and Remain camps emerged from talks conducted by Mrs May herself, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay and cabinet colleagues Michael Gove and David Lidington. Number 10 said that the prime minister was “in listening mode” and wanted to hear views and opinions from every side of the debate before drawing up the plan B that she is due to present to parliament on Monday.

That motion, and any amendments tabled by MPs, will be the subject of the latest in a series of crunch Brexit votes in the Commons on January 29th.

Emerging from talks in Downing Street, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the issue of the Irish backstop needed to be dealt with “in a very clear way” if Brexit negotiations were to make progress.

Apart from Mr Corbyn, all the party leaders have now met the prime minister to discuss Brexit since she survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday evening.

Corbyn calls

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Corbyn blasted Mrs May’s offer of cross-party Brexit talks as a “stunt” – as he was applauded by Labour supporters for saying that a second referendum was still an option.

In front of a crowd of about 200 activists in Hastings, he said the British prime minister had made no “serious attempt to engage with the new reality that is needed” to get a withdrawal agreement through parliament.

In a direct message to Mrs May, Mr Corbyn said: “Take no-deal off the table now please, prime minister.”

He reiterated Labour’s preference for a general election and a Brexit deal on its terms, including a permanent customs union, close links to the single market and protections for workers and the environment.

He added: “If the government remains intransigent, if support for Labour’s alternative is blocked for party advantage and the country is facing the potential disaster of no-deal, our duty will then be to look at other options which we set out in our confidence motion, including that of a public vote.”

However, taking questions after his speech in Hastings, he left open the question of which side Labour would take in a public vote.

Speaking in the heart of an East Sussex constituency that voted 55 per cent-45 per cent in favour of Leave in 2016, he said: “Last night’s offer of talks with party leaders turned out to be simply a stunt, not the serious attempt to engage with the new reality that is needed.”

He added: “I say to the prime minister again: 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, taken off the table, and we can talk about the future of the plans that we will put forward and the future relationship with Europe. ”

Mr Corbyn said he had written to the prime minister on Thursday setting out his position.

He confirmed that Labour will table amendments to Monday’s motion, putting forward its preferred solution of a customs union with a voice for the UK in future EU trade deals, a close single-market relationship and protections for rights.

He also held open the possibility of an extension of the article 50 negotiation period. – PA