Theresa May has opened talks with opposition parties in an attempt to resolve the Brexit impasse as she gears up to make a statement to MPs about her so-called plan B on Monday.
The parliamentary leaders of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, as well as sole Green MP Caroline Lucas, have all taken part in the discussions. But the talks “have so far yielded little”, because all of those parties “want something – a second referendum – that May doesn’t want to give”, says the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to participate until the prime minister rules out the possibility of a no-deal exit.
As May meets individually with the other opposition party leaders, her de-facto deputy David Lidington is reportedly in charge of coordinating other talks between senior Cabinet ministers and delegations of backbenchers of all parties over the next two days.
A “senior Tory figure” told The Times that May’s lack of involvement in some of the more delicate discussions with backbench MPs is “a huge advantage” for the government, because “while the prime minister has huge strengths she is not a person to have a consensus discussion with”.
But just where do each of the UK’s main parties stand on Brexit now?
May’s problem is that “it’s clear, wide open, in public, that the Cabinet is at odds with each other”, says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
Remainer ministers such as David Gauke and Amber Rudd are urging the PM to drop her red lines in order to win over support from Labour MPs, while Brexiteers including Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom are insisting that a customs union with the EU must not be embraced.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss publicly backed the Brexiteers last night, telling ITV’s Peston show: “There are 118 Conservatives that we have the potential to win over, and I think that’s where we should start.”
May seems to be following that strategy so far, with Kuenssberg noting that the PM has said little that might “suggest she is suddenly ready to move very much”. A former minister told the BBC political editor that May was “still flicking the V at the 48% – she’s deluded, she never changes her mind and cannot conceive that others might”.
Labour’s position on Brexit remains that it would back a deal that featured a permanent customs union with the EU. But Corbyn has so far refused to enter into discussions with May owing to her refusal to take no deal off the table.
The threat of no deal is a big problem for Corbyn, “as he knows it gives the prime minister sway over many of his own MPs who are terrified of the impact it would have”, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard – whereas if the option were removed, “there is less chance of worried Labour MPs being coerced into backing a version of May’s deal”.
For the time being, though, Labour looks unlikely to provide May with anything concrete in terms of her plan B.
Sam Coates of The Times tweets that one idea that Labour might consider is to effectively give its MPs a free vote on how to proceed once Parliament starts voting on differing Brexit options.
The Lib Dems have repeatedly called for another EU referendum and for May to take no-deal off the table. Party leader Vince Cable told BBC Newsnight that discussions between himself and the PM had been “courteous, affable and short”.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said the scale of May’s defeat in Tuesday’s Commons vote on her Brexit deal means the Irish border backstop cannot remain a part of her Brexit deal. However, the EU has so far said it is unwilling to budge on the issue.
The party’s Nigel Dodds told ITV’s Robert Peston that “we don’t have to have that customs union and we don’t have to have that high regulatory alignment which basically means Britain is a rule taker”.
But “some think in fact the DUP is privately open to a Norway-style EEA model because it removes the need for the ‘backstop’”, says HuffPost’s Paul Waugh.
In an opinion piece for The Scotsman, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon set out the party’s three key demands for May in the cross-party talks.
Sturgeon said those were ruling out a no-deal exit from the EU; an immediate application to the EU to “stop the clock” by extending the Article 50 deadline well beyond 29 March; and bringing forward legislation preparing for a second EU referendum.
After leaving talks with the PM, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said May was “certainly in listening mode”.
Lucas told Sky News that she had pressed the PM “very hard” to rule out a no deal Brexit, adding: “I do think it is essentially blackmailing MPs to keep it on the table.”
However, she added that May “still thinks it’s going to be possible to tweak this deal sufficiently to get the 230 MPs that voted against it to swing behind it – I remain pretty sceptical about that”.