Brexit talks between senior Conservative and Labour leaders on Tuesday ended without any firm conclusion, putting an end to the UK prime minister Theresa May’s hopes of an early cross-party Brexit deal with Labour. The government admitted the country would have to participate in this month’s European Parliament elections and set August 1 as its latest target for exit day. Although the ruling party described the talk as “constructive and detailed”, hopes of reaching a consensus have all but ended.
After parliament voted down the deal, Mrs May negotiated with the European Union for the third time. She had invited Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for discussions to work with her team on a joint plan for Brexit in April. By striking an agreement between the two parties, she was hoping to avoid the European elections.
Although the three hours of talks on Tuesday were described by Labour as the most robust to date, the party accused the PM of failing to offer meaningful concessions and said Theresa May had simply rehashed her original deal. The Labour party’s negotiating team believed that the concessions Theresa May was preparing to make were not enough and senior ministers spent much of the meeting unpicking the government’s claim. While many Labour lawmakers would not back a deal without a referendum attached, the Tory backbenchers have urged her not to yield on a customs union, constraining both May and Jeremy Corbyn. As no progress was made on a confirmatory referendum, striking a compromise that could be backed by most Labour MPs and command a majority in the parliament was looking doomed to fail.
Mrs May’s spokesman said the PM “deeply regretted” that Britain would take part in the European elections on May 23, but the government is still clinging to the hope that it can secure a Brexit deal with Labour before British MEPs take their seats on July 2. If the election goes ahead, the country will send 73 MEPs, and it would cost the exchequer about £150m to organise. However, the spokesperson admitted that reaching an agreement before the elections might not be possible.
David Lidington said the new aim of the government is to get the Brexit deal rectified by the summer recess. As the parliament normally breaks for the summer holidays in mid to late July, the latest target exit date is now August 1. However, as the government has missed successive deadlines since the original date of March 29, the possibility that Brexit will remain unresolved into the autumn is still open. Even though lawmakers have made it clear that they would not approve a departure without a deal in place, Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, is preparing a paper on no-deal planning and asked the cabinet to be ready for a possible no-deal exit at the end of October.
After the Conservative’s 1922 committee of backbench MPs voted last month in favour of further clarity about her resignation, Tory MPs are again considering rule changes to allow another challenge to Mrs May. Though the MPs so far have resisted from changing party rules, opinion among the committee’s leading members had hardened since last week’s local elections, when the party performed worse than anticipated.
The PM’s allies said it was imperative to know whether a solution would be found from the talks, or whether the government would have to conduct a series of votes on alternative Brexit models. Mrs May would face renewed pressure for her to quit if her party faces a crushing defeat in the European elections.
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