Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Theresa May had not moved far enough in crisis talks aimed at breaking the deadlock over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The United Kingdom was supposed to leave the EU last Friday, but, nearly three years after Britons narrowly voted for Brexit in a referendum, it is still unclear how, when or even whether it will quit the bloc it joined in 1973.
After her EU withdrawal deal was rejected three times by lawmakers, May invited Corbyn, a veteran socialist, to talks in parliament to try to plot a way out of the crisis.
“There hasn’t been as much change as I expected,” Corbyn, 69, said. “The meeting was useful but inconclusive.”
Asked if May had accepted his preference for a post-Brexit customs union with the EU, he said: “We did have a discussion about all of that.”
Corbyn is under pressure from some in his party not to agree a Brexit deal without ensuring that it can be confirmed or rejected in a new referendum that also offers the option to stay in the EU.
“I said: ‘Look, this is a policy of our party that we would want to pursue the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or prevent leaving on a bad deal,'” he said. “There was no agreement reached on that. We just put it there as one of the issues.”
A Downing Street spokesman said the meeting, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes, had been “constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close”.
“We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security,” he added.
May’s overture to Corbyn, whose party has 245 out of 650 lawmakers, offers a possible way for her to secure a majority for an exit deal as she seeks a second short delay to Brexit.
But some in the Labour Party have cast her gambit as a trap aimed at scaring her own lawmakers into backing her thrice-defeated deal, or as a way to extend responsibility for the difficulties of Brexit to the Labour Party.
CORBYN AND MAY
May’s last-ditch approach to Corbyn, who is loathed by many of her Conservatives and mocked by May herself as unfit to govern, provoked anger in her febrile party.
Two junior ministers quit on Wednesday – one of them from the Brexit department.
“It now seems that you and your cabinet have decided that a deal – cooked up with a Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interests first – is better than ‘no- deal’,” Nigel Adams said as he resigned as a minister for Wales.
May turned to Labour after a hardcore eurosceptic group of her own Conservatives repeatedly rejected her divorce deal, saying it would leave Britain a ‘vassal state’.
Using a nickname that plays on May’s reputed robotic inflexibility, one Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmaker told Reuters: “The Maybot has gone haywire – we’ve got to find the ‘off’ switch.”
Corbyn, who voted against EU membership in a 1975 referendum, has said Brexit should include a customs union with the EU and access to its Single Market as well as protection for consumer and environmental standards and workers’ rights.
Many supporters want the party to throw its weight behind a second referendum. But some Labour lawmakers who represent areas that voted strongly to leave the EU not only reject this but also fear that such a ‘soft’ Brexit would be seen as a betrayal.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the government would accept a soft Brexit if parliament voted for it. Sterling hit its highest level since March 28.
May said on Tuesday she would seek “as short as possible” a delay to the current Brexit date of April 12.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he believed EU leaders were open to further delay and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would “fight until the last minute” for an orderly British exit.