Fri. May 24th, 2019

Brexit deal by ‘caretaker’ PM with Labour could be scuppered by backbenchers

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Theresa May is returning to Westminster – after the Tories’ local elections meltdown and a Bank Holiday breather – ready to gamble on a high-risk Brexit deal with Labour.

With some Conservative MPs claiming she is now no more than a caretaker leader, the prime minister is being warned by backbench rebels not to cave in to Jeremy Corbyn.

She is understood to be on the brink of offering a temporary customs arrangement until the next general election, when Labour could campaign for a permanent customs union.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have both had disappointing nights
Image: Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn could reach an agreement

But Mr Corbyn is also under pressure from pro-Remain Labour MPs, including shadow cabinet members, who are refusing to back a Brexit deal without the promise of a second referendum.

In another critical week for Brexit:

:: Talks between senior cabinet ministers and leading Labour figures aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock in parliament are due to resume in Whitehall

:: Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, is expected to meet the prime minister again and demand a timetable for her departure from Downing Street

More from Brexit

:: MPs predict Gavin Williamson, sacked as defence secretary on the eve of the local elections, will make a potentially explosive personal statement in the Commons.

In the latest round of talks, Chancellor Philip Hammond and deputy PM David Lidington are expected to meet Labour’s John McDonnell and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

Speaking ahead of the discussions, Mr Hammond said: “The most important thing is that we put in place arrangements which allow us to have as low friction trade as possible between the UK and the European Union after we have left the EU. And of course we should talk to the Labour Party about how to do that.

“We tried to get a deal through Parliament, we weren’t able to get a parliamentary majority. So we now have to find a compromise that can gain a parliamentary majority.”

On Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News, Rory Stewart, the new international development secretary, said a deal was “a quarter of an inch” away and claimed: “We agree on 99% of this stuff.”

:: Listen to the Sophy Ridge on Sunday podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

But even if the PM is able to reach a deal with Labour, pro-Brexit Tory backbenchers claim more than 100 Conservative MPs could vote against it in the Commons.

Brexiteer Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, said ahead of the latest meeting: “It is unlikely that I will vote for a deal containing a customs union.”

Mr Clifton-Brown also said the prime minister should announce a “road map” for her departure after the European elections on 23 May.

“We are now having to face the prospect of European elections which none of us wanted to face,” he said. “They are going to happen.

“And I would have thought that fairly soon after that would be time for her to think about setting a schedule to find her successor.

“That is regardless of whether there is a deal on offer or not. We should move on as Conservatives.”

Amid the growing clamour for Mrs May to quit, former leader Iain Duncan Smith said after the Tories’ local elections disaster that she was a “caretaker prime minister” and must resign or be forced out.

Iain Duncan Smith
Image: Iain Duncan Smith says Mrs May is now a ‘caretaker Prime Minister’

And Labour’s Mr McDonnell has sounded a note of caution on the cross-party talks by claiming all the Tory leadership candidates are “threatening to tear up whatever deal we do”.

He said: “It’s like trying to enter into a contract with a company that’s going into administration and the people who are going to take over are not willing to fulfil that contract.”

In addition, some 104 pro-Remain Opposition MPs – Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Change UK and Green – have written a letter demanding a second referendum on any Brexit between the Conservatives and Labour.

“The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up, whether over the PM’s deal or another deal,” the MPs wrote.

“Whatever the deal, the people have the right to compare the Brexit facts with the promises made in 2016. They should have the final say on any deal.”

But former Labour minster Caroline Flint, despite supporting Labour pushing for a Brexit deal with the Tories, said there was not a majority among MPs for a second referendum.

“If a deal is struck in which Labour achieves many of its goals in that deal, that it takes us up to a general election in which all parties will be able to then set out their stall, then I think that is a deal that is worth pursuing,” she said.

“And if Labour signs up to a deal that includes those goals I think a majority of Labour MPs will support that position.”

Caroline Flint has added her name to the letter
Image: Caroline Flint says there is not a majority among MPs for a second referendum

Ahead of his meeting this week with Mrs May on pressure on her to reveal when she intends to step down, Sir Graham also issued an ominous warning of mutiny against a deal with Labour.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said: “The temptation for the government now to do whatever is necessary to secure some kind of Brexit agreement is obvious, but it must be resisted.

“To reach an agreement with Labour that locked the United Kingdom into the customs union might pull in enough Labour votes to allow an agreement to limp over the line.

“But the price could be a catastrophic split in the Conservative party and at a time when the opposition is led by dangerous extremists, the consequences for our country would be unthinkable.”

Another horror looming for Mrs May this week is the threat of a personal statement by Mr Williamson, who claims he was “tried by a kangaroo court” when he was sacked over a leak from the National Security Council.

Some Tory MPs are predicting his statement, which they expect after PMQs on Wednesday, could be as sensational and wounding as Sir Geoffrey Howe’s bombshell attack on Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

http://news.sky.com/story/a-deal-by-caretaker-pm-with-labour-on-brexit-could-be-scuppered-by-tory-backbenchers-11713418

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