Downing Street woos Labour MPs and unions as May seeks Brexit deal allies

Theresa May has reached out to union leaders as she makes an 11th-hour attempt to reach out to her political opponents to get her Brexit deal through the Commons.

Downing Street said the British Prime Minister had “constructive” phone conversations about her Brexit deal with trade union big beast Len McCluskey of Unite, a Brexit supporter and close confidant of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as well as Tim Roache of the GMB.

Number 10 also confirmed ministers would “consider very seriously” moves by Labour MPs to safeguard workers’ rights after Brexit in an attempt to win support for her deal, if the backbench amendment was selected by the Speaker.

The amendment would keep EU rules on pay and conditions, health and safety issues, and environmental standards.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe with Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe with Theresa May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

However senior opposition figures rowed back against the overtures, saying it was too little, too late.

Mr Corbyn said Labour did not “endorse or accept” the initiative, backing union leaders including the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, who said the amendment “makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights”.

And one of the union leaders who spoke with Mrs May said afterwards he remained in favour of extending Article 50 to allow a second referendum.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Roache added: “After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position, the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.

“If the deal genuinely did the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry later on Thursday hit out at Tory figures putting out feelers on workers’ rights in a bid to get a Brexit consensus.

Appearing on the BBC’s Question Time, she accused the Government of treating the issue as an “afterthought” by attempting to discuss it at such a late stage.

She said: “It would be fundamental to what we were doing and we would have it as part of the law that our rights would be in pace with Europe.

“For the Tories to come back at the last minute and go ‘oh yeah you know that thing about workers’ rights, well you might be able to have the same rights as they have in Spain’, it just shows the fundamental difference of approach to this.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield (Danny Lawson/PA)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Corbyn said the widely-expected defeat for Mrs May’s deal next Tuesday would signal the failure of her leadership and of the Conservatives as a party of Government.

Speaking on a visit to Wakefield in Yorkshire he urged MPs from across to House to back the motion of no confidence in the Government which Labour would table “at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success”.

Asked if he agreed with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer that an extension to the two-year Article 50 process may now be “inevitable”, Mr Corbyn said: “An extension would be a possibility because clearly there would have to be time to negotiate.”

- Press Association

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