Tuesday 20 August 2019

May hoping for Brexit deal in 'constructive' talks with Labour

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Reuters
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Theresa May has told MPs she hopes "a deal can be done" with Labour to find a consensus Brexit deal which can command a majority in the British parliament.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Mrs May characterised the talks, which have now been under way for a month, as "constructive and meaningful".

And she said the "only acceptable" resolution to the Brexit process would be a deal which allows the UK to leave the European Union with a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement in place.

Mrs May denied that she was seeking to keep Britain in the European Union "indefinitely" if she cannot get agreement on a Brexit deal.

But asked if it was now "impossible" for Britain to leave without a deal, she said: "What I think is that parliament will act to insist the UK Government is not willing to leave without a deal."

Mrs May was speaking after a member of Labour's negotiating team suggested that the government may have no option but to give ground on key Labour demands if it wants to get a Brexit deal through Parliament, a senior shadow minister has warned.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said "pragmatically" ministers might have to move towards Labour's position on a customs union if cross-party talks aimed at ending the deadlock were to succeed.

Her comments came amid reports that British Environment Secretary Michael Gove had warned ministers they may have to offer concessions so Jeremy Corbyn could claim victory in the talks and sell the deal to his MPs.

Mr Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, said it would be better to accept the "unpalatable" outcome of a deal with Labour than the "disastrous" outcome of Brexit not happening at all, according to The Daily Telegraph.

And Mrs May did little to damp down speculation that a compromise deal on a customs union may be in the offing, repeatedly stating when asked if she could accept such an arrangement that it depended what the definition of a customs union was.

A Labour source said the party's negotiators had seen "clear evidence that the government is prepared to explore shifts in its position", but said that no movement away from Mrs May's red lines had yet been "locked down".

Mrs May told the cross-party committee of senior backbenchers: "We've been having constructive, meaningful talks which are continuing.

"There are differences on issues but on many of the key areas - particularly on the Withdrawal Agreement - there is common ground.

"We know that we need to end this uncertainty and do it as soon as possible and I hope a deal can be done. We certainly approach this with an open mind.

"But if we are not able to do that, then we will bring votes to the House in order to determine what the House will support. We stand ready to abide by that decision if the opposition are willing to do so."

She added: "The choice before the House remains the choice that has always been before the House in relation to this issue.

"We can form a majority to ratify and leave with a deal, we can decide to leave with no deal, we can go back to the people, admit failure and ask them to think again or we could revoke Brexit.

"Those are the choices. I think... the only acceptable one is to form a majority to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement."

Some Tory MPs and ministers remain deeply unhappy at the prospect of a deal with a left-wing Labour Party led by Mr Corbyn.

Their concerns come amid fears the Conservatives face heavy losses in the local elections on Thursday as voters vent their fury at the Government's failure to leave the EU, as promised, on March 29.

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