UK government focused on passing Brexit law

Talks with Labour serious but difficult, says May; sterling at two-month low as hopes of breakthrough in talks fade

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May told her top team of ministers yesterday that talks with the opposition Labour Party aimed at finding a way forward on Brexit were serious but difficult in some areas, her spokesman said.

Mrs May's spokesman said there was no specific timetable for the end of talks with Labour, but that the Prime Minister also told her Cabinet that progress was needed to be made urgently to deliver Brexit.

The spokesman said earlier that the government was focused on passing the law it needed to ratify Britain's exit from the European Union, adding that talks with the opposition Labour Party would require compromise on both sides, and that the legislation could be introduced to make progress with the Brexit process.

Britain's Parliament returned from an Easter recess yesterday as the government continued its talks with the opposition Labour party about forging a Brexit agreement that could win the support of lawmakers. But such talks have made little headway, analysts said, and weekend media reports said the pressure on Mrs May to find a solution or name a date for her to step down was growing.

A report in the Financial Times yesterday also said that Mrs May planned a new vote on her Brexit agreement - which has been defeated three times already - next week in a high-risk push to break the deadlock.

The sterling slid to a two-month low yesterday as hopes for a breakthrough in Brexit talks faded.

After earlier trading as high as US$1.3019 in mid-European trading, the pound dropped to as low as US$1.2928, down 0.3 per cent on the day and its weakest since Feb 19.

The European Commission (EC) again ruled out yesterday any reopening of the withdrawal treaty negotiated with Britain last year after a media report in London said that Mrs May had asked aides to review alternative arrangements for the Irish border.

SEEKING NEW LEADERSHIP

I believe the only way we're going to break this impasse properly is if we have fresh leadership.

MR NIGEL EVANS, a senior member of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, who told the BBC yesterday he would be "delighted" if British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation immediately.

"It is excluded that we renegotiate or reopen the withdrawal agreement because this is the best solution possible," deputy chief spokesman Mina Andreeva told a news conference, citing remarks by EC president Jean-Claude Juncker.

She had been asked about a report on pro-Brexit members of Mrs May's Conservative Party pressing the Prime Minister again to seek changes to the treaty to remove the controversial "backstop" protocol intended to avoid disruptive customs checks on Northern Ireland's sensitive land frontier with the EU.

Britain is mired in a deep political crisis over its departure from the EU, three years after a divisive referendum that voted to pull Britain out of the bloc after nearly half a century.

Mrs May was forced to ask EU leaders earlier this month to postpone Brexit for a second time - from April 12 to Oct 31 - after MPs repeatedly rejected the divorce deal she had struck with Brussels.

She is still hoping to persuade Labour to support the plan so the country can leave in time to avoid taking part in the European Parliament elections on May 23.

But with one month to go, few are expecting a consensus to emerge and Britain's political parties old and new are scrambling to organise for the upcoming polls.

A new pro-EU political party meanwhile launched its campaign yesterday for the European elections.

Change UK, formed by breakaway MPs from Britain's two main parties, was set to unveil its roster of candidates at an event in Bristol in south-west England.

 
 

The avidly anti-Brexit party - initially called The Independent Group - is pitching itself as the "natural home" for voters wanting a second referendum and the chance to stay in the EU. It is expected to field as many as 70 candidates after receiving more than 1,000 applications from former Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green activists, its leadership has said.

Anti-EU firebrand Nigel Farage launched his new Brexit Party's campaign earlier this month, vowing to put "the fear of God into our members of parliament". The former UK Independence Party leader, who led that party to first place the last time Britain held European elections in 2014, has seen his new grouping surge in the polls since the launch.

It was also slated to announce its latest tranche of candidates in London yesterday.

Mrs May's Conservative Party is watching nervously, with predictions its share of the vote could plummet amid voter discontent over her handling of Brexit.

MPs are agitating for the Prime Minister, who has agreed to resign once the first phase of the exit process is finished, to make way for a new leader now.

Mr Nigel Evans, a senior member of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, told the BBC yesterday he would be "delighted" if she announced her resignation immediately.

"We could then have an orderly election to choose a new leader of the Conservative Party," he said. "I believe the only way we're going to break this impasse properly is if we have fresh leadership."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'UK government focused on passing Brexit law'. Print Edition | Subscribe