Brexit talks deadline: May ‘gives Jeremy Corbyn a week to agree a deal or she will pull the plug’
- Talks between Labour and the Government have been going on for weeks
- But the two sides are believed to be some way from reaching an agreement
- Ministers are understood to have been told they need to be concluded by the middle of next week
Jeremy Corbyn has been given a week to agree a Brexit deal with the Government or ministers will pull the plug on crunch cross-party talks.
Ministers are said to believe that the talks, which have so far yielded little agreement between Theresa May’s ministers and their Labour counterparts, cannot continue indefinitely.
And they are understood to consider next week as a potential cut-off point, irrespective of whether the talks, which are continuing, have reached any consensus or not.
The hardening attitude comes after weeks of discussions between rival teams of senior ministers and officials, with little sign of a breakthrough cross-party deal that would be backed by MPs on both sides.
Talks on Monday between the two sides, led by de-facto deputy Prime Minister David Lidington and shadow chancellor John McDonnell are understood to have been better than previous head-to-heads.
But the ideologically opposed parties are thought to remain some way from an agreement.
It’s understood that the Cabinet was informed of the latest developments at its weekly meeting this morning, with a general feeling that the process needed to come to a conclusion next week.
The country already looks almost certain to take part in European elections in May but the Government hopes to leave before the end of June.
This would stop any MEPs from taking their seats in Brussels, because the European Parliament does not sit until July 2.
To do this the Government needs to get the ball rolling on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) as soon as possible.
Jeremy Corbyn left his north London home this morning carrying a red folder with ‘EU Issues March 2019 written on the outside
The Labour and Conservative teams are discussing two options. One is an an agreement on the shape of the WAB that would allow Mr Corbyn to whip his MPs to support it.
Talks have focused on whether the UK should remain in a customs union with the EU – which Labour wants but the Government is trying to resist.
They are also searching for common ground in other areas like workers rights and environmental and animal welfare standards.
Another option is that the two sides – if they cannot come to a deal – agree on a process of ‘indicative votes’ by MPs that shapes the form the Brexit deal finally would take.
This could see MPs vote for a customs union or for a similar relationship with Brussels as enjoyed by Norway and other members of the European Economic Area (EEA)
These votes could still take place even if the talks break down, but could face a more difficult passage without official party support of some of the measures.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters today: ‘Cabinet received an update on the Brexit talks with the Opposition, including the negotiations last night which were serious and constructive.
‘Further talks will now be scheduled in order to bring the process toward a conclusion.
‘Cabinet also discussed the need to secure safe passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) as soon as possible.’
Pressed on what ‘a conclusion’ meant, he added: ‘There is an understanding on the need to make progress on delivering Brexit – the way to leave the EU with a deal is via securing safe passage of the WAB.
‘What I am saying today really reflects the understanding that the Government needs to be making progress in order to deliver on what the British people voted for.’
Last night senior Labour MPs said for the first time since cross-party talks began that Mrs May’s ‘red lines’ may have started to shift.
These entrenched positions surround a closer customs union with the EU after Brexit.
Jeremy Hunt is on day two of his African tour today and warned the PM against doing a deal with Labour, where he talks to undercover journalist Anas Aremeyaw in Accra, Ghana, left
It followed several hours of discussions, with a Labour source telling the Times: ‘There wasn’t complete movement but there was movement.’
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire and health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) were all at 10 Downing Street for this morning’s Cabinet meeting
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Baroness Evans, Leader of the House of Lords, were also at the meeting, at which Brexit was discussed
Jeremy Hunt had warned Theresa May that a deal with Labour would be a mistake – but urged her not to quit until Brexit is delivered.
The Foreign Secretary, who is touring Africa on a trip seen as the launch of his leadership campaign, suggested he hopes talks with Jeremy Corbyn fail if it leads to the softest possible Brexit, calling it ‘bad policy’.
Speaking to the Daily Mail on his five-day trip, Mr Hunt said it was ‘very difficult to imagine a Rose Garden moment’ – a reference to the 2010 coalition agreement between the Tories and Lib Dems.
He said Labour were much more divided on Brexit than the Tories, raising the question of whether Jeremy Corbyn was ‘serious about delivering Brexit’.
He said: ‘There is always a danger of doing a deal with Labour that you lose more Conservative MPs than you gain Labour MPs, but I think the essential question is whether Labour are serious about delivering Brexit’.
At the weekend Labour accused the Government of still refusing to ‘move on any of their red lines’ in the cross-party talks on getting a Brexit deal.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey also hit back at claims from the Conservatives that her side has been stalling, saying ‘we’re certainly not dragging our heels’.
She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘Honestly I think the discussions so far have been productive, they’ve gone into a lot of detail, there seems to be a willingness on both sides to move towards some form of consensus.
‘But as yet we haven’t seen the Government move on any of their red lines, we’re having further discussions this week and hopefully we’ll see some movement.’
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