May and Corbyn agree to continue talks on Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s meeting with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has infuriated some of her party.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has met opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to break the impasse over Brexit.

During the two-hour session on Wednesday, the political rivals agreed to a programme of cross-party talks to seek a mutually acceptable agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Corbyn described the meeting as “useful but inconclusive”, saying in a TV interview that there had not been “as much change as he expected” in May’s stance and that she would have to come up with something to make her deal palatable to MPs.

According to Corbyn, future customs arrangements, trade agreements and regulatory alignment on issues including employment and the environment were all discussed during the meeting.

The two sides have agreed to continue the dialogue, with Corbyn saying more talks will happen on Thursday.

May’s spokesman said that both sides had shown “flexibility” during discussions and that the commitment to continue talks would ensure the parties “deliver for the British people”, as well as protect jobs and security.

Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer also attended the meeting, along with the party’s business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey and Labour chief whip Nick Brown.

For the Conservatives, May’s de-facto deputy David Lidington, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Conservative chief whip Julian Smith were also present. 

Wednesday’s meeting comes amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s departure from the EU.

The UK is due to leave the bloc on April 12, but so far, Parliament has not agreed on a withdrawal plan. 

After her divorce deal suffered three defeats in parliament, May on Tuesday offered to sit down with the Labour Party leader to try and settle a deal they could both agree on. 

Conservative rift

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from outside the UK Parliament in London, said May’s offer to Corbyn has inflamed divisions in her own party.

“There are members of her own party, hardline Brexiteers, who view the fact that she’s having talks at all with Jeremy Corbyn as a form of Brexit betrayal,” he said. 

Conservative MPs fear the meeting with Corbyn will lead to a watered-down version of Brexit as the Labour Party has been pushing for a much softer departure from the EU. 

Boris Johnson, a vocal pro-Brexit Conservative MP and former foreign minister, said Brexit was becoming “soft to the point of disintegration”.

Speaking to Sky News after May’s announcement on Tuesday evening, Johnson said it was “very disappointing that the Brexit process has now been entrusted to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party”.

Nigel Adams, minister for Wales resigned following the announcement, calling Jeremy Corbyn a “Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interests first” in his resignation letter.

Junior Brexit Minister Christ Heaton-Harris said on Wednesday that he had also quit May’s government.

Labour has called for the UK to remain closely aligned to the bloc’s customs union and has committed to putting the results of any final deal to a public vote. 

“These are all red lines that Theresa May in the past said she wasn’t willing to cross and it has now enraged hardline Brexiteers,” Barker said.

In the interview following the meeting, Corbyn said he had raised the issue of a second referendum but no agreement had been reached.

Seeking unity

May also met the first ministers of Scotland and Wales on Wednesday in her attempt to secure broad national support for her deal.

Speaking after her meeting with May, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the two had a “good, open conversation” but warned against seeking a compromise at any cost.

“In the rush to reach some compromise … a bad compromise will be reached,” she said.

Sturgeon, whose Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) continues to rigorously campaign against Brexit, also cautioned that May’s promise to resign once a deal is passed opens the door for her successor to “unpick” the deal. 

May’s offer for talks with Corbyn came as the prime minister announced on Tuesday that she would seek a further delay to Brexit, which was initially scheduled for March 29.

The move came just hours after a cross-party group of 12 MPs revealed that they would try to pass a law that would force May to seek a delay to the UK’s departure from the EU. 

In a vote on Wednesday, MPs approved the motion, which is being debated in parliament, with a vote to follow later in the evening. 

Regardless of whether this law is passed, or the outcome of May’s talks with Corbyn and the first ministers, all 27 EU member states will need to approve of any extension to the UK’s April 12 Brexit deadline. 

Europe watches and waits

At a European Council summit on April 10, May will seek an extension to delay the departure until May 22, the day before the European Parliament elections begin. 

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the UK will not get any short-term extensions for Brexit unless its parliament backs May’s deal.


“A ‘no-deal’ at midnight on the 12 of April is now a very likely scenario,” Juncker told the European Parliament on Wednesday.

“[The] UK will be affected more than the EU because there is no such thing as a ‘managed or negotiated no-deal’ and there is no such thing as a no-deal transition,” Juncker said. 

France’s new European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said that, while May and Corbyn’s meeting was a positive step, it offered no guarantee of a way out of the crisis.

“Theresa’s May’s call yesterday evening for national unity is very positive, but we have no certainty on what will be the outcome,” De Montchalin, who was appointed this week, told French politicians.

There were mixed messages from other EU member states, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowing to fight “till the last hour” to avoid a no deal Brexit, but others felt lukewarm about granting another extension.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland would support a delay to the UK’s departure, but Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there was currently no reason to agree to an extension.

Meanwhile, the United States weighed in on Wednesday, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow saying that a so-called “clean Brexit” could help spur US trade talks with the UK.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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