Brexit cross-party talks fail over ‘weakness and instability’ of Theresa May’s Government

Uncertainty looms over UK as Brexit compromise talks fail

I have written to Theresa May to say that talks on finding a compromise agreement for leaving the European Union have gone as far as they can; Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn

Talks between the United Kingdom’s Government and Opposition aimed at striking a compromise Brexit deal have broken down without agreement, plunging the country back into a morass of uncertainty over its departure from the European Union.

Key points:

  • Mrs May reached out to Labour to secure support for her proposed Brexit deal
  • Labour cited policy gaps and Mrs May’s weak leadership for dialogue’s breakdown
  • MPs are due to vote a fourth time over Mrs May’s deal in June

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday said talks with Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Government had “gone as far as they can”.

In a letter to Mrs May released by Labour, Mr Corbyn said “we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us”.

It was the moment we all knew would arrive sooner or later. On Friday morning it emerged that cross-party talks on Brexit had finally collapsed.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, the leaders of two very different forces in British politics, failed to reach a compromise deal after six weeks of negotiations, and, it seems, we are back to square one.

So, what the hell have they been doing all this time? And what next for the UK’s long and tortuous departure from the European Union?

Who pulled the plug?

In the end, it was the Labour leader who decided enough was enough.

Blaming the impending race for the Tory leadership (May has said she will set out the timetable for her departure within weeks,)  Corbyn wrote to the PM on Friday morning.

He told reporters: “The PM has announced the date she’s leaving, there have been increasing noises off stage by Conservative Cabinet ministers and others who don’t agree with much of the talks or any of the discussions we are holding, so we are concluding the talks.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, May blamed Labour. She said the party was divided over the issue of a second referendum.

A Downing Street source went further, singling out shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer’s “very strident” views on the subject during talks.

Both leaders stuck the boot in while out campaigning for votes ahead of Thursday’s European elections, a cynic might point out.

So, what was the point?

The parties entered talks in March after May’s withdrawal agreement was voted down by MPs for the third time.

Labour’s demands included a customs union – a prospect abhorred by Tory Brexiteers – and a so-called ‘Boris lock’, which would ensure whatever deal was agreed could not be torn up by a future Conservative PM.

Corbyn’s team also wanted a confirmatory vote on the deal.

During the talks various ministers and shadow ministers have met. Negotiators and the teams are said to have made progress on strengthening workers’ rights and environmental protections.

But ultimately, the talks’ failure has left most people wondering whether the government has wasted six weeks of the extension to Article 50 the EU granted the UK.

What next?

The government now looks set to hold a number of indicative votes.

These could take place as early as next week and include a range of customs arrangements, a soft Brexit and a second referendum.

A leaked document, which emerged on Friday morning, said MPs could be handed free votes customs options and be able to rank their options by preference: one, two, three and four.

The plan, which was apparently circulated during Labour-Tory talks, would also offer MPs a yes/no proposition on a second referendum, leading pro-EU MPs to claim the plan was designed to snuff out the idea.

It is not clear whether the document was agreed by the Cabinet and No. 10 refused to comment on it.

The government also stressed that it was still exploring alternative arrangements that could potentially solve the Northern Ireland backstop issue, though many believe this to be a non-starter given the EU’s staunch opposition.

Would indicative votes solve anything?

The answer is probably not.

An array of options, including a second referendum, the so-called ‘Common Market 2.0’ soft Brexit plan and Nigel Farage’s favoured no-deal exit, was put before MPs in March as part of a similar process. Nothing was able to command a majority.

And MPs have less incentive to find agreement, given that the PM has confirmed she will soon set out a timetable for her exit. Tory leadership hopefuls have begun jostling for position and Labour, which craves a general election, is unlikely to offer the PM a ‘get out of jail’ card.

If, by some miracle, MPs unify and settle on one way forward, the compromise will be written into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (shorthand: WAB) which May will bring back to the Commons on the week of June 3.

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