Time is running out for Theresa May to reach a Brexit compromise with Labour ahead of a summit with European leaders this week.
The British Prime Minister has angered Tories by holding talks with Labour, with Brexiteers including Boris Johnson concerned she will accept a customs union as the price for a deal with Jeremy Corbyn.
Mrs May has told European Union leaders she wants a delay to Brexit until June 30 at the latest, with the possibility of an early exit if she can get a deal through Parliament.
But Brussels is expected to demand a clear strategy from the British Prime Minister at a meeting of EU leaders on Wednesday and could insist on a longer delay which would require the UK to participate in European elections.
Let me explain what's happening with Brexit.pic.twitter.com/gjGkvFk8fT— Theresa May (@theresa_may) April 7, 2019
In a video message recorded in her Chequers country retreat, Mrs May said both sides will have to compromise in the cross-party talks with Labour.
The negotiations stalled after Labour said Mrs May had refused to set out any changes to her Brexit red lines and no further face-to-face meetings have yet been confirmed.
The British Prime Minister acknowledged that she could not see the Commons accepting her deal in its current form and MPs would not agree to a no-deal exit – currently the default position at 11pm on Friday unless an extension is granted.
That was the reason for the “new approach” of cross-party talks with Labour as “the choice that lies ahead of us is either leaving the EU with a deal or not leaving at all”.
She said: “It’ll mean compromise on both sides but I believe that delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us.”
If no deal can be reached with Labour, Mrs May has committed to putting a series of Brexit options to the Commons and being bound by the result.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that a customs union “does mean that we deliver an end to freedom of movement and it does mean that we deliver the vast majority of the aims of Brexit, which was to leave the institutions of the European Union”.
“It’s not perfect but, frankly, in this particular hung parliament none of us can get perfection, we need to compromise.”
He said that “something approximating a customs arrangement or customs union would be the most likely outcome” of the process.
But former foreign secretary Mr Johnson used his Daily Telegraph column to warn that Tory MPs would not allow Mrs May to “surrender” to Mr Corbyn.
“If the UK were to commit to remaining in the customs union, it would make a total and utter nonsense of the referendum result,” he said.
“To agree to be non-voting members of the EU, under the surrender proposed by Jeremy Corbyn – it cannot, must not and will not happen.”
In a further sign of the constraints on Mrs May, Brexiteer Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt warned a long delay to Brexit would be unacceptable to the public and businesses which were already “having to prepare for a whole raft of eventualities”.
“For me, the critical thing is that we leave, we do it swiftly, we don’t get locked into fighting European elections,” she told City AM.
“Brexit is something we have to do to arrive at where the public wanted to be, which is to have more control over laws, borders, money and trade, and having an independent trade policy.”
Shadow business minister Rebecca Long-Bailey, a member of Labour’s negotiating team, said while it was “disappointing” that there had not been any shift in the Government’s red lines last week, “the overall mood is quite a positive and hopeful one”.
Ms Long-Bailey told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show “the proposals we have seen from the Government so far and their direction of travel over the last two years have not been compliant with the definition of a customs union”.
But she indicated talks aimed at reaching a deal with the Tories were expected to continue early this week.
“It is a very hypothetical question”April 7, 2019
Ms Long-Bailey suggested Labour could be prepared to revoke Article 50, cancelling Brexit, if the UK was heading towards a no-deal scenario on Friday.
“We have promised our party members and our constituents that we will do all we can to avoid a no-deal situation,” she said.
On Monday, peers will continue considering Yvette Cooper’s Bill forcing the Prime Minister to request a Brexit extension rather than leave the EU with no deal.
The Bill, which gives MPs significant power over the Brexit process, scraped through the Commons by a single vote last week.
Meanwhile, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will travel to Dublin for talks with Leo Varadkar ahead of Wednesday’s summit.
At the weekend, Mr Varadkar said his preference was for a longer delay than the June 30 date proposed by Mrs May and said it was “extremely unlikely” that any one of the 27 EU leaders would use their veto over an extension at the European Council meeting.
- Press Association