THE leaders of the two main UK political parties have clashed following the the collapse of cross-party talks aimed at ending the Brexit impasse.
With the UK’s third-biggest party – and with it Scotland’s voice – sidelined from the meetings, Jeremy Corbyn pulled the plug on the negotiations with the Prime Minister. He said they had “gone as far as they can” and “we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us”.
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Another day of failed politics, another dispiriting day for British business. Six wasted weeks while uncertainty paralyses our economy.”
The talks lasted six weeks, though were preceded by a two-week recess, with Westminster MPs deciding to go on holiday when the EU granted an Article 50 extension.
The UK had been due to leave the EU on March 29, but after Theresa May’s deal was embarrassingly defeated three times – including a record defeat for any prime minister ever – but was granted an extension until October 31.
Following yesterday’s breakdown between the parties, Corbyn also said the prospect of a change in Tory leadership meant the Government was “ever more unstable and its authority eroded”. He added that Labour could not be confident in any cross-party agreement being delivered by her successor.
But the Prime Minister hit back, highlighting Labour’s own divisions over the issue of a second referendum, saying they had made it impossible for a deal to be reached.
“We have made real progress on some issues such as workers’ rights and environmental protections, but it is clear that we are not going to be able to reach a complete agreement,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said. No further discussions are planned with the opposition, the spokesman confirmed.
Speaking at a European election campaign event in Bristol, May said: “There have been areas
where we have been able to find common ground, but other issues have proved to be more difficult – and in particular we have notbeen able to overcome the fact that there isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum which could reverse it.”
She suggested that the option of indicative Commons votes to find out what MPs would be prepared to accept remained under consideration ahead of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill being brought to Parliament for a showdown in the week beginning June 3. She said when MPs come to vote on the Bill “they will be faced with a stark choice: that is to vote to deliver on the referendum, to vote to deliver Brexit or to shy away from delivering Brexit with all the uncertainty that that would leave”.
The Government will now focus its efforts on trying to win over rebel Tories and the DUP, while hoping that Labour MPs can be persuaded to back the withdrawal agreement based on the common ground established during the talks.
The PM is due to set out the timetable for her exit from No 10 following the vote and candidates to replace her are already jostling for position.
Downing Street said it became clear on Thursday night that it would be impossible to reach a full deal with Labour.
In a letter to May, Corbyn said: “I believe the talks between us about finding a compromise agreement on leaving the European Union have now gone as far as they can.”
Corbyn, speaking in his north London constituency, said May had not moved her red lines “fundamentally” and the divisions in the Tory Party meant it is a “government that is negotiating with no authority and no ability, that I can see, to actually deliver anything”.
The cross-party talks covered whether to hold a series of indicative votes before the second reading of the Bill, designed to enable to UK to leave the EU before July 31, leaked documents revealed.