PM says party’s conflict over second referendum made compromise deal impossible
Theresa May has blamed Labour’s divisions over a second referendum for the collapse of cross-party Brexit talks, after Jeremy Corbyn wrote to her to say they had “gone as far as they can”.
Speaking in Bristol at a campaign event for next week’s European elections, the prime minister said the negotiations had been constructive and had “made progress”.
But she added: “In particular, we haven’t been able to overcome the fact that there isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or have a second referendum and try to reverse it.”
In his letter to the prime minister, released on Friday, the Labour leader said the talks, designed to find a compromise Brexit plan, had been undermined by both a lack of common ground and concerns about whether a successor to May would stick to any deal.
May’s spokesman said the view was mutual: “It was clear to the government last night that the talks were not going to reach a successful conclusion.”
Corbyn wrote that the talks had taken place in good faith and had been constructive, but added: “However, it has become clear that, while there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us.
“Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”
However, a Downing Street source echoed May’s claim that it was Labour’s internal conflict over a referendum that ultimately made agreement impossible – and pointed to the stance of Keir Starmer.
“It is clear that the shadow Brexit secretary has fairly strident views on the issue, and he led the Labour team in the negotiations,” the source said.
Starmer told the Guardian earlier this week that he believed it would be impossible for any deal to pass without a “confirmatory” referendum attached.
“If the point of the exercise is to get a sustainable majority, over several weeks or months of delivering on the implementation, you can’t leave a confirmatory vote out of the package,” he said.
The government intends to press ahead with holding a vote on the withdrawal agreement bill in the week beginning 3 June – but sources stressed it would include “new features that reflect some of the discussions”, in the hope of winning over Labour MPs.
May also plans to resume talks with her confidence and supply partners, the Democratic Unionist party, about how they could be reassured that accepting the deal would not undermine the integrity of the UK.
Government sources also pointed to progress on considering “alternative arrangements” for the Northern Irish border – one of the central concerns of Brexiters who have held out against the deal.
Corbyn said Labour would “carefully consider” any new proposals, but added: “I should reiterate that, without significant changes, we will continue to oppose the government’s deal as we do not believe it safeguards jobs, living standards and manufacturing industry in Britain.”
He cited May’s imminent departure as a reason why Labour had growing doubts “about the government’s ability to deliver on any compromise agreement”.