Britain's May seeks compromise with Labour as time ticks on Brexit deal

Sergio Conner
February 12, 2019

British global trade secretary Liam Fox and Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin signed the bilateral trade agreement in Bern on Monday.

"The government will commit that if the meaningful vote, in other words the deal coming back, has not happened by the 27th of February, then we would allow a further motion - votable in Parliament - to take place, to give that sense of assurance as to the process moving forward", he told the BBC's "Andrew Marr Show".

She said the government needed to "get serious" about policy on a customs union and guarantee to "legislate for the protections around workers' rights".

Britain is due to leave the European Union on 29 March but has yet to find a deal which is acceptable to both Brussels and lawmakers at home, raising the prospect of a disorderly exit that could damage the world's fifth largest economy.

May wants to win over lawmakers in her Conservative Party with changes relating to the Northern Irish border, but the EU has refused to reopen that part of the deal and instead wants May to pursue a compromise with the main opposition Labour Party by agreeing closer UK-EU ties.

"The idea that you can have a customs union with the EU and at the same time, as an outside country, have an effect on EU trade policy, is to not understand the EU treaties".

Mrs May's statement to the House of Commons is being made a day earlier than had been expected.

Asked if changes to the backstop proposals could come in a separate codicil to the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Johnson said: "I don't think that would be good enough".

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"Labour will just try to trap Theresa May".

"I think it must be pretty obvious that if you are going to have a time limit to the backstop, and I think that would be a very good thing, it's got to fall before the next election". But the former foreign secretary insisted the mechanism would need to expire before the next general election in 2022.

Keir Starmer, who is Labor's shadow Brexit secretary, says he believes the prime minister is "pretending to make progress" on the Irish backstop issue.

Speaking after a dinner with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Monday night, European Union negotiator Michel Barnier said the talks had been "constructive", but added it was "clear from our side we're not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but we will continue our discussions in the coming days".

Mr Barnier's deputy Sabine Weyand made clear that the European Commission is not pinning its hopes on the United Kingdom eventually deciding to mount a second referendum, telling a conference in Germany that the only option was a structured exit.

In a reply to Corbyn published by May's office late on Sunday, she rejected the idea of a customs union, saying Britain must be able to strike its own trade deals after Brexit.

Meanwhile Mrs May welcomed the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, to Downing Street for talks on Monday evening.

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