UK govt, opposition in Brexit crisis talks after delay vote, Latest World News - The New Paper

UK govt, opposition in Brexit crisis talks after delay vote

This article is more than 12 months old

Another blow for May's government as compromise talks with opposition continue

LONDON The British government and the main opposition were to hold further crisis talks yesterday after MPs voted in favour of a Brexit delay that would avoid Britain crashing out of the European Union on April 12.

With options running out, Prime Minister Theresa May switched course and invited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for talks on Wednesday in a bid to forge a compromise that avoids a chaotic no-deal departure from the EU in eight days' time.

Mrs May's divorce deal with the other 27 EU nations has been rejected three times by Parliament and patience is wearing thin in Brussels as the deadline to end Britain's 46-year membership nears with no agreement in sight.

The premier said on Tuesday that she would seek another "short" Brexit extension at an EU summit on April 10.

But MPs voted by the narrowest of margins on Wednesday in favour of draft legislation that would force the government to seek to delay Brexit beyond April 12.

The vote passed by just one - 313 votes in favour and 312 against - in the lower House of Commons and the Bill will now pass to the upper House of Lords for final approval, much to the government's annoyance.

"We are disappointed that MPs have chosen to back this Bill," a government spokesman said. "The Prime Minister has already set out a clear process through which we can leave the European Union with a deal and we have already committed to seeking a further extension.

"If passed, this Bill would place a severe constraint on the government's ability to negotiate an extension and reflect this new date in UK statute books before April 12."

Mrs May said Wednesday's talks with Mr Corbyn were "constructive", suggesting she might be prepared to bend her previous principles and listen to proposals for much closer post-Brexit trade relations with the bloc than many Conservatives are prepared to accept.

Both sides showed "flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close", said a spokesman for Mrs May's Downing Street office.

"We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security," he added.

Mr Corbyn said: "There hasn't been as much change as I expected but we will have further discussions... to explore technical issues."

He told Mrs May that Labour wanted a customs union with the EU, access to its single market and raised "the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal".

If the talks between the government and Labour fail to reach a compromise that both can support, Mrs May hopes the two sides can come up with mutually acceptable options that would be put up for binding parliamentary votes.

Mrs May's sudden change of tack was received with caution by EU leaders who wish to see the split resolved before the European Parliament elections begin on May 23.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond said it was an "expectation" that Brussels would offer a longer extension at the April 10 summit than the short one Britain is targeting, but London would want to curtail it as quickly as possible after passing a Brexit deal.- AFP