Tory battle to replace May threatens Labour talks on Brexit – McDonnell
May’s initiative with opposition to have ‘fatal’ consequences, says former defence secretary
Shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Labour’s John McDonnell: “The administration is falling apart”. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
The battle among leading Conservatives to replace Theresa May as prime minister threatens to derail talks with the opposition Labour Party and the bid to find a Brexit compromise, Labour’s John McDonnell has said.
Mrs May, who has offered to quit if lawmakers accept her Brexit deal, opened cross-party talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party more than a month ago after parliament rejected her European Union withdrawal deal three times.
The talks with Labour are a last resort for Mrs May, whose party’s deep divisions over Brexit have so far stopped her getting approval for an exit agreement and left the world’s fifth largest economy in prolonged political limbo.
Mr McDonnell, Labour’s financial spokesman and a member of the party’s negotiating team, said the situation was precarious.
“The problem they have is that literally in front of us they will fall out,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “So the exercise here is holding themselves together. And that is proving impossible. The administration is falling apart.”
In terms of progress, the second most powerful man in the Labour Party said nothing new had been put on the table, and in some cases the talks had gone backwards.
“It’s so precarious. We’re dealing with an institution that might not be there in three weeks.” He said the talks had been made more difficult by Mrs May’s offer to resign because a new leader could rip up anything agreed by the current administration.
“We’re in a position now where we’re asking, ‘How can we trust them to deliver – not just in the short-term, in the medium term as well?’”
Mrs May’s Conservatives have said the talks are difficult, as both parties gear up to contest European elections later this month, but that they will continue to try and find a deal that can get parliamentary support.
Meanwhile, former UK defence secretary and Conservative MP Gavin Williamson has described Theresa May’s Brexit talks with Labour as a “grave mistake”.
Mr Williams, who was sacked over the Huawei leak, said pressing ahead with the talks will have “fatal” consequences.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he labelled Mrs May as “politically naive” for going into fruitless negotiations which he claimed were bound to fail.
The Tory MP for South Staffordshire said doing a deal with Labour on Brexit “sounds so simple and so reasonable, but it is destined to fail”.
“Even if Labour do a deal, break bread with the prime minister and announce that both parties have reached an agreement, it can only ever end in tears,” he said. “The Labour Party does not exist to help the Conservative Party.
“Jeremy Corbyn will do all he can to divide, disrupt and frustrate the Conservatives in the hope of bringing down the Government.
“His goal, and he has made no secret of it, is to bring about a general election.”
Mr Williamson said the prime minister seemed oblivious to the fact many Tories believe she is “negotiating with the enemy”.
“There is a clue in their title: Her Majesty’s Official Opposition,” he said. “Their priority is to derail the government.
“Even if we get to a point where Jeremy Corbyn agrees a deal with the prime minister, when it comes to detailed scrutiny of the votes, Labour will revert to form.
“Even if it passes the first few votes, it will fail later.”
The former cabinet minister said there was a simple calculation that a deal could pass with the combined votes of Labour and Conservative MPs, but “tough realities” must be faced if the deal was “far removed” from expectations.
“It is politically naive to go down this route.”
Warning Mrs May she was turning her own supporters against her, Mr Williamson said that scenario “should be avoided at all costs”.
He said: “The Prime Minister needs to recognise that futile efforts to pull off this Labour deal are damaging us all.
“It is a grave mistake for any Prime Minister to fail to recognise when a plan will not work and it is fatal to press on regardless.
“We need to accept that these talks with Labour are fruitless and that not only will they not deliver the Brexit that people voted for, they are a betrayal of the direct instructions the people gave us in 2016 and 2017.”
Urging Mrs May to “make the right choice”, the MP suggested new leadership was needed. “We are now at a crossroads and it is imperative the prime minister makes the right choice,” he said.
“In order to deliver Brexit, there has to be a clear-sighted determination of what you are wanting to deliver, as opposed to delivering the lowest common denominator.
“The only way to deliver anything is by ensuring you have your own tribe and your own people with you 100 per cent of the way.
“This is what has to be delivered – not doing a deal with Labour.”– Agencies