Britain could seek long Brexit delay if May-Corbyn talks fail

Labour MP Yvette Cooper speaking during a debate on the second reading of the EU withdrawal Bill in Parliament on Wednesday. Twenty-five lawmakers in the Labour Party yesterday urged their leader Jeremy Corbyn to go the "extra step" if there is a cha
Labour MP Yvette Cooper speaking during a debate on the second reading of the EU withdrawal Bill in Parliament on Wednesday. Twenty-five lawmakers in the Labour Party yesterday urged their leader Jeremy Corbyn to go the "extra step" if there is a chance of agreeing a Brexit deal in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PM turns to opposition Labour chief for support to break impasse in Parliament over her withdrawal deal with EU

LONDON • Britain could ask the European Union for a long Brexit delay next week if crisis talks between Prime Minister Theresa May's government and the opposition Labour Party fail to find a way out of the impasse over the divorce from the European Union.

Mrs May, whose deal to leave the EU has been rejected in Parliament three times, has turned to Mr Jeremy Corbyn in a last-ditch bid to get the support of his Labour Party for an agreement she signed with the bloc's leaders in November.

Mr Corbyn has welcomed the talks, but the invitation poses a threat for his divided Labour Party - some members and lawmakers are demanding a second referendum on any deal, while others fear being blamed for helping pass Mrs May's much-criticised agreement.

The Labour leader, a veteran socialist campaigner whom Mrs May has repeatedly derided as unfit for office, on Wednesday said the Prime Minister had not moved far enough in the talks, which continued at a lower level yesterday.

He is pressing his desire for a "permanent Customs union" and alignment with the EU's single market in the talks - red lines for a Prime Minister who had made controlling immigration one of the keystones of her Brexit policy.

Labour's Brexit point man, Mr Keir Starmer, and Mr Corbyn's strategy chief, Mr Seumas Milne, were seen entering the Cabinet Office with Mrs May's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday. Mrs May's de-facto deputy, Mr David Lidington, was to also attend that meeting. The aim, Mrs May's spokesman said, was to have intensive discussions.

A further meeting between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn will happen when there is a reason for one, her spokesman said.

The House of Commons on Wednesday approved legislation which would force Mrs May to seek a Brexit delay to prevent a no-deal departure on April 12. The House of Lords was set to debate the controversial Bill yesterday after it was passed by a single vote.

After more than two years of tortuous discussions about the minutiae of the separation, EU leaders are weary of London's failure to agree its own divorce, and patience is wearing thin.

"If passed... this Bill would place a severe constraint on the government's ability to negotiate an extension," Mrs May's spokesman said.

When asked if he was comfortable about a long extension, Finance Minister Philip Hammond told ITV he was not, but that the defeat of Mrs May's deal last Friday - the very day that Britain was due to have left the EU - meant "we are where we are".

 
 
 
 

"The important thing now is that in any extension that we get from the EU, we have an absolute clarity that as soon as we've done the deal, we are able to bring that extension to an end," he added.

Mr Hammond said if the talks between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn failed, the government would present some ideas from the discussions to Parliament.

Twenty-five lawmakers in the Labour Party have urged Mr Corbyn, to go the "extra step" if there is a chance of agreeing a Brexit deal in talks with Mrs May.

The 25 lawmakers, almost all from areas which voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, said in a letter that the talks "represent a real opportunity" for Mr Corbyn, a way to get a deal which would meet Labour's demands for a Brexit that protected workers' rights.

"We believe you are close to achieving that in the coming days," said the letter whose signatories include Labour's schools spokesman Mike Kane and three lawmakers who last week voted in favour of Mrs May's deal: Ms Rosie Cooper, Ms Caroline Flint and Mr Kevin Barron.

"At the general election, we were clear about respecting the 2016 vote, and about securing those Labour goals. Therefore, we feel if compromise is necessary to achieve this deal and avoid fighting the European elections, we should go the extra step to secure this."

After more than two years of tortuous discussions about the minutiae of the separation, EU leaders are weary of London's failure to agree its own divorce, and patience is wearing thin.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in Brussels that Britain would not get any further short delays unless its Parliament ratified a deal by April 12 - the date set by EU leaders as the effective cut-off for avoiding the European Parliament elections.

The EU is discussing different options: a delay until the end of the year, next spring or the end of 2020, though in recent days, discussions have focused mostly on a one-year delay.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to meet residents who live along the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland during a visit to Dublin yesterday. She was also expected to use her trip to meet Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to consider the border situation and how to prevent a no-deal "hard Brexit".

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline 'Britain could seek long Brexit delay if May-Corbyn talks fail'. Print Edition | Subscribe