May set to END ‘difficult’ Brexit talks with Corbyn – 'We're looking to find a winner'

Ministers will today hold a “substantial discussion” at the weekly Downing Street Cabinet meeting about calling off the negotiations with Labour given the lack of progress in reaching a compromise plan. Instead, the Prime Minister is expected to trigger a series of “definitive votes” in the Commons to try to force MPs to come to a decision. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This is a crunch week.” Ministers met Labour frontbenchers last night in the latest round of cross-party talks.

Mrs May wants officials to draw up a system of voting that will ensure MPs cannot simply reject every Brexit option as happened on two occasions on a series of motions earlier this year.

“We are looking at some way of finding a winner,” said one Whitehall insider.

Officials are understood to be looking at the Alternative Vote (AV), Single Transferable Vote (STV) and other options that would allow MPs to rank options in order of preference. 

Any “definitive vote” will still not be binding as the Commons could vote against or amend the Government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

But ministers believe MPs will face a massive public backlash if they continue to block Brexit having backed a particular option.

One senior minister said: “Labour would be in a very dangerous place politically if they keep voting against a deal when the Commons has shown there is a majority for once.”

Another Government source said: “There will be a substantive Cabinet discussion on wherever we have got to.”

Mr Hunt said the talks were reaching a decisive point when questioned by reporters while on his way to a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.


Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn (Image: GETTY)

“We are talking to the Labour leadership, and we have had very, very detailed discussions,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“People have been pessimistic right from the outset that these discussions weren’t going to go anywhere, but they have actually continued.

“So we have to see what happens this week.”

He also dampened expectations a second EU referendum could be part of a cross-party Brexit package.

“From a Conservative point of view, we’ve always said that we think that would be a betrayal of what people voted for, and we want to implement the first referendum. But let’s see where these talks go to,” he said.

Downing Street officials yesterday admitted the cross-party talks between ministers and Labour had been “difficult”.

Tory Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said: “If MPs continue to refuse to vote for a deal to leave the EU, we will head towards a showdown in October where we risk losing Brexit altogether.”

If MPs continue to refuse to vote for a deal to leave the EU, we will head towards a showdown in October where we risk losing Brexit altogether

Steve Barclay

He warned Tory Eurosceptics that continuing to block a Brexit deal could lead to Remainers succeed in their demand to cancel the EU’s Article 50 departure process.

“In a choice between a no deal exit or revoking Article 50 I would vote for the former, yet many MPs would vote to revoke,” Mr Barclay said.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the cross-party talks remained the Government’s  “Plan A” at present.”

“If that is not able to find a way forward, then the alternative route is a small number of votes,” he said.

Tory MPs expressed increasing frustration with the talks last night. Senior backbencher Nigel Evans described the talks as “nothing more than a cosmetic exercise”.

He pointed out that Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson had called for a “remain and reform” approach to the EU.

“How can we possibly talk to a Labour Party that has its deputy leader of that party saying now they wish to remain and reform the European Union?” Mr Evans asked.


Tory Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay (Image: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Labour frontbenchers yesterday insisted they were unwilling to back any cross-party approach with the Government that did not include a second referendum.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer warned it was “impossible” to see how an agreement between the Tories and his party could clear the Commons unless it guaranteed the deal would be put back to the public for a “confirmatory vote”.

He said: “I’ve made it clear that at this stage, at this 11th hour, any deal that comes through from this Government ought to be subject to the lock of a confirmatory vote.”

Mr Watson his party would be unwilling to assist the UK’s exit from the EU without a “confirmatory ballot”.

The Labour deputy leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If a deal could be found that inspires enough votes in Westminster then fine, but it seemed to me that that’s very, very difficult.

“And so my idea of a confirmatory ballot is not a religious point or a point of ideology, it’s just how do you get an outcome, how do you sort this out?

“And one way to do it are these two minority positions – the Prime Minister’s deal and those that think the people should have a say on the deal – plug them together and you build a majority.”


Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (Image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The continuing deadlock at Westminster means the current parliamentary session, extended to allow extra time for MPs and peers to deal with crucial Brexit legislation, is now the longest since the English Civil War.

Today marks the 300th sitting day of a session which started on June 13, 2017.

In a sign of the impact the stalemate is having on the rest of the parliamentary agenda, MPs spent less than 45 minutes debating the main Commons business set for yesterday.

They started consideration of the Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation For Digital Services) Bill’s second reading at 4.51pm and concluded it at 5.32pm – just 41 minutes.


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