LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday urged main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to work with her to break the Brexit deadlock, telling him: "Let's do a deal."
Mrs May said she understood why hardcore Brexiters in her own centre-right Conservative Party, who want a clean break with the European Union, would wince at the prospect of striking a softer agreement with the veteran socialist.
But she insisted the clobbering both main parties took in last week's local elections had increased the necessity of finding an EU divorce deal that a majority of MPs could get behind, even if many of her own backbenchers were not among them.
"To the leader of the opposition, I say this: Let's listen to what the voters said in the elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let's do a deal," she wrote in The Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Mrs May negotiated a withdrawal agreement with Brussels last year but MPs repeatedly voted it down, with large numbers of her own Conservative backbenchers standing against it. "Regrettably, I have to accept there is no sign of that position changing," Mrs May wrote.
Had a withdrawal agreement been signed off, Britain would have left the EU on March 29. Its exit date has twice been postponed and is now set at Oct 31.
"The government has been in talks with the opposition to try to find a unified, cross-party position," Mrs May said. "Many of my colleagues find this decision uncomfortable. Frankly, it is not what I wanted, either. But we have to find a way to break the deadlock - and I believe the results of the local elections give fresh urgency to this.
"We will keep negotiating, and keep trying to find a way through. The longer that takes, the greater the risk we will not leave at all. We need to get out of the EU and get a deal over the line."
The Conservatives lost more than a thousand seats in last Thursday's local authority polls, but the left-wing Labour failed to capitalise, also losing seats as voters vented their frustration at the Brexit impasse dominating British politics.
The Sunday Times newspaper claimed that the government was prepared to give way to Labour in three areas: Customs, goods alignment and workers' rights.
The broadsheet said Mrs May would set out plans for a temporary Customs arrangement with the EU that would last until the next general election, which must be held by May 2022.
However, more than 100 opposition lawmakers have written to Mrs May and Mr Corbyn to say they would vote against any agreement the pair reach unless it is subject to a referendum. "The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up, whether over the PM's deal or another deal. This risks alienating both those who voted 'leave' in 2016 and those who voted 'remain'," the letter says.
Labour's finance policy chief John McDonnell also told the BBC that Mrs May had broken the terms of the confidential talks with the party and could no longer be trusted. But he said the negotiations would continue later this week, adding that if a deal could still be struck, it must be concluded quickly.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith - who was himself ousted by his own MPs in 2003 - said backbench MPs needed to "decide that either the Prime Minister sets the immediate date for departure or, I'm afraid, (we) must do it for her".
The hardcore eurosceptic called Mrs May a "caretaker prime minister", telling LBC radio that making fundamental decisions about Brexit under her leadership would therefore be "a big mistake".
Mrs May has said she will step aside once a Brexit deal has been passed by Parliament.