Labour calls off Brexit talks as May's premiership crumbles

British Premier Theresa May leaving a European Parliament election campaign event in Bristol on Friday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to her yesterday telling her that the Brexit talks had "gone as far as they can".
British Premier Theresa May leaving a European Parliament election campaign event in Bristol on Friday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to her yesterday telling her that the Brexit talks had "gone as far as they can". PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Instability of govt means no confidence in securing whatever might be agreed: Corbyn

LONDON • Britain's tumultuous divorce from the European Union was again in disarray yesterday after the opposition Labour Party declared last-ditch talks dead due to Prime Minister Theresa May's crumbling government.

Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent in a referendum to leave the EU, it remains unclear how, when - or even if - it will leave the European club it joined in 1973.

The current exit deadline is Oct 31.

Brexit talks between Mrs May's Conservative Party and Labour collapsed hours after Mrs May agreed on Thursday to set out early next month a timetable for her departure.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Mrs May yesterday informing her that the Brexit talks, which began on April 3, had "gone as far as they can" due to the instability of her government and its refusal to fundamentally shift its position.

"We have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us," Mr Corbyn, a socialist who voted against joining the predecessor of the EU in 1975, wrote.

"Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us," Mr Corbyn said. He said Labour would oppose Mrs May's deal when it returns to Parliament early next month. He later told reporters there was no chance of getting even part of a Brexit deal ratified by the end of July.


British Premier Theresa May leaving a European Parliament election campaign event in Bristol on Friday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (above) wrote to her yesterday telling her that the Brexit talks had "gone as far as they can". PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The divorce deal, which Mrs May agreed last year with the EU, has been rejected thrice by Parliament. Mrs May will put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, legislation needed to enact the exit deal, to a vote in Parliament early next month.

Looking uncomfortable as she delivered a televised message to voters ahead of the European Parliament elections, Mrs May suggested Labour's internal divisions over a second referendum were to blame for the failure of the talks.

The pound sank to US$1.27, its lowest level since mid-January.

Mrs May's hands have been tied, knowing that to make concessions to Labour would lead to fury within her divided party. Labour has feared any compromises on issues such as workers' rights would be torn up by Mrs May's successor.

Britain's labyrinthine crisis over Brexit has stunned allies and foes alike, and with deadlock in London, the world's fifth largest economy faces an array of options, including an exit with a deal to smooth the transition, a no-deal exit, a general election or a second referendum.

 
 
 

The Brexit impasse is unlikely to be broken soon. After she puts her deal to a vote in the week of June 3, when US President Donald Trump is due to make a state visit to Britain, Mrs May has said she will agree on a timetable for the election of her successor.

Mr Boris Johnson, the face of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, said he would be standing as a candidate to replace Mrs May as Conservative leader.

"As we look to the future, we have to listen to the public," Mr Simon Clarke, a Conservative lawmaker, wrote on Twitter. "Boris Johnson is the only candidate who increases likelihood to vote Conservative among both our 2017 voters & people planning to vote (for the newly formed) Brexit Party."

The winner of the leadership contest will automatically become prime minister and will take control of the Brexit process, which has plunged Britain into its worst political crisis since World War II.

Mr Johnson has been one of Mrs May's most outspoken critics over Brexit and supports leaving the EU without a deal.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Labour calls off Brexit talks as May's premiership crumbles'. Print Edition | Subscribe