Thursday 23 May 2019

May still hoping for a compromise in last-ditch talks

British Prime Minister continues to meet Labour as EU chief negotiator Barnier arrives in Dublin

Justification: Theresa May defended holding talks with Labour, in a video message filmed at her Chequers country retreat. Photo: Downing Street/PA Wire
Justification: Theresa May defended holding talks with Labour, in a video message filmed at her Chequers country retreat. Photo: Downing Street/PA Wire
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

British Prime Minister Theresa May is to make a last-ditch attempt at shepherding the UK out of the EU as she seeks a compromise with the Labour Party.

Ahead of a crucial week in the Brexit saga, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin today to discuss the shape of any extension that may be granted by the EU27.

It is expected that leaders will offer Mrs May a year to sort out Brexit - which raises the possibility of both a Tory leadership battle and a general election - when they meet at an emergency council summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

Despite the threat of a crash-out Brexit largely receding, the default position currently remains that the UK will leave the EU on Friday with no deal.

Mr Varadkar will brief Mr Barnier today on Ireland's no-deal preparations during the visit which is seen as a show of solidarity by the Irish Government.

In London, talks are expected to continue between the Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour - but it is clear that both parties have a long way to go to bridge the gap and reach a consensus.

Labour's business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey, a member of the party's negotiating team, said while it was "disappointing" that there had not been any shift in the Government's red lines, "the overall mood is quite a positive and hopeful one".

Labour's key demand is for a customs union with Brussels in order to protect the flow of goods, but Brexiteers vehemently oppose anything that would restrict the UK's ability to strike free-trade deals through being bound by tariffs set by the EU.

Calling for customs union: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Calling for customs union: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

In a video message filmed at her Chequers country retreat, Mrs May said: "There are lots of things on which I disagree with the Labour Party on policy issues. But on Brexit I think there are some things we agree on: ending free movement, ensuring we leave with a good deal, protecting jobs, protecting security.

"And so we are talking. Can we find a way through this that ensures that we can get a good deal and a deal agreed through Parliament?

"It'll mean compromise on both sides but I believe that delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us."

Any compromise would need to come with a lock mechanism that would make it "Boris-proof". Labour is keen that any agreement reached could not later be ripped up by a future Conservative leader such as Boris Johnson.

Jostling has already begun in the Tory Party in the race to replace Mrs May, who has pledged to resign once her deal is through.

The behind-the-scenes attempts to get a foothold on any leadership battle come as Mrs May faces down a furious backlash in her party at all levels over her handling of the Brexit debacle, which saw her lose three parliamentary votes on her deal and her decision to work with the Labour Party on a compromise.

The party is said to be losing out on donations and struggling to round up volunteers to fill canvass teams.

A potential alliance between Mr Johnson and Amber Rudd is seen by supporters as a way of bridging the party's Brexit divide.

The so-called 'Bamber', or Boris and Amber, plan would see the work and pensions secretary back Mr Johnson for the leadership in the hope that her influence would mean other MPs from the Remain wing of the party would follow.

As cross-party talks on Brexit continue, Sinn Féin's president Mary Lou McDonald will hold talks with Mr Corbyn today and will impress on him the need to protect Irish interests no matter what the end result of Brexit is.

Irish Independent

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