Hopes that cross-party talks could navigate a way through the Brexit stalemate were dashed as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced that these negotiations had gone as far as they could do and would now end without an agreement.
The talks, which began in March after the European Union (EU agreed to push the Brexit deadline to October 31, had been widely seen as giving Prime Minister Theresa May an oon to get get Parliament on board her Withdrawal Agreement.
Cliff edge scenario
The end of the talks will exacerbate concerns that Britain could be heading towards another Brexit cliff edge. This is all the more so as Ms. May has started the countdown to the end of her premiership as she agreed to set a timetable for her departure after the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, due to go before MPs in the first week of June.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Corbyn said that while talks had been detailed, constructive and involved a lot of effort on both sides, significant policy gaps remained amid a Conservative failure to compromise on some of Labour’s key asks, particularly around customs union membership and guarantees that Britain’s standards for environmental and worker protection would remain at European levels. In addition, he cited concerns that Ms. May’s successor would not honour commitments made by her.
Both Ms. May and Mr. Corbyn have faced criticism from members of their respective parties over the talks, greatly limiting the scope for a compromise. This meant that the government was only willing to offer customs union membership till the next election, and provide limited guarantees around worker and environmental rights.
Mr. Corbyn has faced pressure to insist that any deal would have to be the subject of a confirmatory public vote or second referendum. On the other hand, sections of his party have also warned him that Labour could lose votes in northern constituencies that voted heavily to leave the EU.
“There isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum, which could reverse it,” Ms. May said during a party rally on Friday.
Many Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland continue to oppose Ms. May’s withdrawal deal with the EU, with concerns centring on the backstop arrangements that would put the U.K. in a customs union with the EU if future talks broke down to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. With these concerns as alive as ever, talks with Labour had been seen as a way in which Ms. May could move forward.
However, with the cross-party negotiations coming to an end without any deal, chances of the Bill getting passed in its second reading in June have fallen even further. This makes it likely that Ms. May will have to set her exit date earlier rather than later.
While a large number of candidates are expected to attempt to fill Ms. May’s shoes, Boris Johnson is the favourite, and has adopted a far more combative stance towards the EU negotiations, insisting that that Britain could easily withstand a no-deal Brexit.