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Brexit chaos looms after Jeremy Corbyn rejects Theresa May’s call for talks

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LONDON — The Brexit process has hit deadlockafter Theresa May’s attempts to forge a cross-party consensus were rebuffed by the leader of the opposition Labour party who demanded that she drop her threat of leaving the EU without a deal.

The prime minister survived a confidence vote in her government on Wednesday and is now focused on finding a way to strike a Brexit deal which has the support of both opposition and eurosceptic Conservative MPs, who rejected her current deal by a huge margin on Tuesday.

The prime minister called on politicians to put “self-interest aside” and work together to find a compromise, holding talks on Wednesday night with Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, and Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville-Roberts.

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to meet with May until the government ruled out a no-deal Brexit, something Theresa May — who has so far shown little intention of compromising on the strict red lines she has has set for negotiations — is not willing to do.

The prime minister must present a new plan for exiting the EU by Monday 21 January.

Is a customs union a way out of the deadlock?

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There’s a growing belief within Cabinet that a Brexit deal which includes permanent customs union membership could secure the support of parliament, with Labour’s international trade secretary Barry Gardiner indicating on Thursday that Labour could support such a position, even though a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn earlier denied that Labour would do so.

Membership of the Customs Union allows the free passage of goods between member countries and would go a long way to preventing the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit.

However, senior Conservatives are in open disagreement on the prospect of permanent customs union membership, which was comprehensively ruled out by Downing Street on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the prime minister said: “The principles that govern us as we go into these talks is that we want to be able to do our own trade deals, and that is incompatible with either the or a customs union.”

Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis reiterated the point on the BBC on Thursday that May would not consider a customs union and also ruled out a second referendum.

However, Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated in a leaked private call this week that the government could move to support a permanent customs union. He indicated to business leaders during the phone call that the government is open to talks over staying in the customs union by saying the UK will not enter new discussions with the EU “waving flags with red lines on them.”

The chancellor also said that MPs would be able to rule out a no-deal Brexit, suggesting that a controversial amendment tabled by former Conservative Cabinet ministers could provide the “ultimate backstop” to prevent such an outcome. He added that there is a “large majority” in the Commons for preventing the UK from leaving without a deal.

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