Theresa May will travel to Berlin and Paris today as she scrambles to secure a Brexit delay from the EU while negotiating “at pace” with Jeremy Corbyn to salvage a deal on the UK’s exit.
On her 1,001st day in office, the Prime Minister will hold talks with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron as European leaders prepare to issue the UK with a set of demands in exchange for an extension of Article 50, to avoid a no-deal Brexit on Friday.
Last night the government and the opposition reopened talks on a possible compromise based around membership of the customs union, just as Conservative MPs stepped up their pressure on Mrs May not to agree to a softer deal.
Ministers and shadow ministers will today hold the first face-to-face talks since Friday, when Labour walked out of negotiations, saying it was “disappointed” with a lack of compromise from the Tories.
“We are committed to finding a way through in order to ensure we can leave the EU and deliver on the referendum,” a Downing Street spokesman said last night. “That will require the parties to work at pace in order to address outstanding issues.”
Talks between the two parties are also focusing on a ‘lock’ to prevent a future Conservative leader from abandoning any compromise. A deputation of Tory MPs from the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee went to Number 10 yesterday to warn the Prime Minister not to compromise with Labour.
Asked last night if the government was being serious about the discussions, Mr Corbyn said: “Talks have to mean a movement and so far there has been no change in those red lines.” The Labour leader added: “We are looking for movement, because we do not want to see a crashing out of the EU with no deal.”
A deal on an extension is expected to be agreed when European leaders gather in Brussels tomorrow evening. Hosting the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Dublin yesterday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was “extremely unlikely” an extension would be refused.
But with Mr Macron leading a campaign of pressure on the UK, tough conditions are likely to be set to ensure the EU’s agenda is not disrupted if Brexit is delayed for several months. The UK is expected to be asked for guarantees it will not interfere in the EU’s budget setting process, as well as other plans for closer integration.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said EU leaders would need assurances of “sincere co-operation” from London before granting an extension.
Mrs May spoke with Mr Rutte and the two EU presidents, Donald Tusk and Jean Claude-Juncker by phone on Monday, and was due to speak with other EU leaders before the summit. Mr Rutte said that it would be “crucial” for the EU27 to know “when and on what basis” the UK will ratify its Withdrawal Agreement. Despite a UK request for the delay to be limited to 30 June, Mr Tusk has recommended a one-year extension to the Brexit process, with a break clause allowing an earlier departure if a withdrawal deal is ratified in Westminster.
Today’s weekly meeting of Cabinet has been cancelled due to Mrs May’s travels.
Meanwhile, a controversial bid to extend the Brexit process and avoid a no-deal scenario was expected to receive royal assent last night after rocketing through both Houses of Parliament in three days.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs the government would bring forward a motion for debate today on extending Article 50 if Yvette Cooper’s bill has been passed.