Tuesday 21 May 2019

EU tells UK it's on 'Brexit break'

Former ministers demand May pulls the plug on talks with Labour

Campaign: Liberal Democrat MPs Jo Swinson and Ed Davey launch a new poster attacking Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit. Photo: Getty
Campaign: Liberal Democrat MPs Jo Swinson and Ed Davey launch a new poster attacking Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit. Photo: Getty

Donna Gray

The EU has told Britain that it is on a "Brexit break" and will only listen to Theresa May's top Brexit negotiator today.

Yesterday, a spokesperson said the bloc would only turn its attention to Brexit again "if there is something happening in London", but would listen to Olly Robbins, the UK's lead negotiator, when he visits Brussels.

The slap down came as Mrs May was urged to pull the plug on Brexit talks with Labour or risk losing the support of her party's "loyal middle".

Ahead of a key cabinet meeting, 13 former ministers, together with the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, wrote to the prime minister demanding she does not to concede Labour's demands for a customs union.

Britain's opposition Labour Party said Mrs May had not yet made a shift in Brexit talks and that the party was concerned a future Conservative leader could renege on any promises made by the current government.

Labour's finance chief John McDonnell said a customs union was absolutely key for the party and there was not yet a deal.

Theresa May: JPMorgan claims PM will not survive beyond end of June. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May: JPMorgan claims PM will not survive beyond end of June. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

"We haven't seen the significant shift yet that we require to be able to support a deal," he said.

When asked by Reuters if the talks were doomed, Mr McDonnell said: "We have gone into them in good faith and we've done everything we possibly can to try to reach a traditional British compromise."

He said a letter from former British ministers, including Boris Johnson - who could be the next leader of the Conservative Party, demanding that Mrs May refuse to agree a post-Brexit customs union had not helped.

"What we are all concerned about is the letter from Boris Johnson which said one he wouldn't accept a customs union, one of our key elements, and secondly that if he was leader, and he may well be, that he would overturn any deal that we'd agreed.

"That doesn't inspire confidence in the ability to secure a deal that lasts longer than a couple of months," Mr McDonnell said.

Mr McDonnell compared the Brexit negotiations with Mrs May's government to trying to make a contract with a company which was about to go into administration.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mrs May said the cabinet has agreed to continue Brexit talks with Labour but acknowledged it was "imperative" to get withdrawal legislation through Parliament before the summer break.

Meanwhile, US investment bank JPMorgan said yesterday it was difficult to see the British prime minister surviving beyond the end of June.

"Although PM May's survival skills have been impressive to date, our sense is that the sand is finally running out of the hourglass for her leadership of the Conservatives," JPMorgan said in a research note to clients.

"In our view, it is difficult to see May's leadership extending beyond the end of June," the bank's analyst Malcolm Barr said in the note.

With Mrs May's future linked to the passage of a Brexit deal, getting legislation through the Commons and Lords by the summer break could also pave the way for her departure from Number 10.

Ministers spent more than two hours discussing the Brexit situation and, despite the apparent lack of progress in talks with Labour, decided the process should continue, but with a clear view that "we need to get a move on".

Deadlocked over navigating Britain's exit from the European Union, the country's parliament session is now the longest since the English Civil War of 1642-51, the House of Commons library said on Monday.

Parliamentary sessions usually last a year, from spring to spring, but after a June 2017 election the government announced it would hold a rare two-year legislative session in order to tackle the complexities of Brexit.

But with Mrs May's Brexit deal having been rejected three times by parliament and lawmakers now at an impasse over the way forward, there is no sign the UK government plans to bring the current session to an end.

Irish Independent

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