May Urges Corbyn to Drop ‘Impossible’ Demand: Brexit Update

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17 jan. 2019, 10.40

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Theresa May’s government is in talks with opposition parties to end the Brexit impasse, though there’s little sign of progress. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is still boycotting discussions.

Key Developments

  • May cancels trip to World Economic Forum in Davos (4:10 p.m.)
  • Government is sharing its research with MPs on a second referendum -- to try to prove how unfeasible it is (4:30 p.m.)
  • Commons vote on May’s Plan B will be on Jan. 29, after the PM presents it on Jan. 21 (10.50 a.m.)
  • Corbyn says second referendum remains an option (11:25 a.m.)
  • U.K. says EU raised issue of delaying Brexit (11:45 a.m.)

May Said to Promise Brexiteers ‘No Customs Union’ (6:30 p.m.)

The premier met leading pro-Brexit Tories and promised them she won’t agree to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, according to people familiar with the matter.

The group included former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, former Brexit secretary David Davis, and former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson.

May told the MPs she 99did not want to rely on Labour votes to get a deal through Parliament and was aiming to get the Tories and DUP to back it. She was also firm there won’t be an extension to the March 29 deadline and she’s not going to rule-out leaving the EU with no deal.

May’s restatement of her red lines calls into question the purpose of holding negotiations with opposition politicians. The risk is that if her outreach effort is just window dressing, it will fail to deliver a deal.

May: Corbyn’s Precondition for Talks ‘Impossible’ (5:50 p.m.)

Theresa May has written to Jeremy Corbyn explaining why his precondition for talks -- that she first rule out a no-deal Brexit -- is “impossible,” while pointing out that leaders of five other parties had agreed to meet her.

“I note that you have said that ‘ruling out’ no deal is a precondition before we can meet, but that is an impossible condition because it is not within the government’s power to rule out no deal,” May wrote.

The prime minister said the only way to rule out a no-deal Brexit was to either vote for a deal, such as the withdrawal deal she’s already agreed with the EU, or to revoke Article 50 and overturn the result of the referendum -- something she said “would be wrong” to do.

“My door remains open to a meeting without preconditions,” she concluded. “I sincerely urge you to accept.”

Ministers Share Referendum Research With MPs (4:30 p.m.)

In the government’s cross-party Brexit discussions, lawmakers were shown a page of the government’s research on a second referendum, May’s spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters, stressing it was “illustrative only” and set out the “factual detail” and the number of months required for another vote.

A U.K. official said later the amount of time needed for a second referendum was in excess of a year.

The implication here is the government is sharing referendum research to try to show how unfeasible it would be to hold another vote. But it also comes just hours after Corbyn acknowledged another referendum might be necessary, and is unlikely to dampen enthusiasm in the campaign for a People’s Vote.

May Will Not Attend Davos Meeting (4:10 p.m.)

May’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters just now the prime minister has canceled her trip next week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to handle Brexit negotiations. The prime minister has calls planned with EU leaders but no scheduled travel, she said.

The government’s talks with opposition and Conservative lawmakers are continuing, and include Labour members of Parliament, Donnelly said, and are expected to continue through the weekend.

That’s despite leader Corbyn’s letter asking his party not to attend (see 3:30 p.m.)

Corbyn Asks Labour MPs Not to Speak to May (3:30 p.m.)

Jeremy Corbyn has written to all Labour members of Parliament appealing to them not to speak to Theresa May’s government until she meets the party’s conditions for talks.

“I urge colleagues to respect that condition and refrain from engagement with the government until ‘no deal’ is off the table,” the Labour leader wrote. Unfortunately it’s an appeal that’s already being disobeyed (see 11:50 a.m.).

Corbyn has also written to May reiterating his refusal to speak to her until she agrees to his demand.

May Said to Signal the Backstop Needs Fixing (2:55 p.m.)

May signaled in a meeting with six Tory members of Parliament on Thursday that she knows the Irish backstop needs to be fixed and said she’d make efforts to do that, according to a person familiar with the situation.

She was told that changing the backstop would bring some Conservatives back onside, the person said. The trouble is, that might not be enough to get a majority. The EU isn’t keen to tweak the backstop and since May’s defeat this week, now thinks a much more fundamental overhaul of the agreement is needed.

Remain Support Growing? (1:30 p.m.)

The People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum published results of a snap YouGov poll that shows support for remaining in the EU surging to a post-2016 record.

Thursday’s poll of more than 1,000 people shows Remain holding a 12 percentage-point margin -- compared with the 4-percent margin in the 2016 referendum. Remain had even bigger margins over Leave when voters were asked if they supported it versus May’s Brexit deal (30 percentage points), or no deal (18 percentage points).

Poland Expects Brexit Delay (1:20 p.m.)

Poland joined the list of European countries that think some extension to the Brexit deadline is likely. Development Minister Jerzy Kwiecinski, who is involved in no-deal planning, said he expects a request to delay.

“I’m expecting the U.K. will submit a motion for the extension of Article 50, and I think it still can’t be excluded as there’s little time till the end of March -- so this should be taken into consideration,” he said in an interview.

Poland would probably accept such a request -- which would need to be unanimously approved by the 27 remaining nations. “More time means a better deal,” Kwiecinski said.

EU officials have discussed a possible extension of many months but there isn’t complete agreement, according to diplomats. Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal have all floated the prospect publicly in recent days.

The U.K. said earlier the EU has raised the issue of extending exit day at “official level,” and the government has responded that it wants to leave the bloc on time.

Lib Dems Won’t Play Along With Corbyn (1:15 p.m.)

Labour leader Corbyn’s potential plan to hold another vote of no confidence in the government were dealt a blow by Vince Cable, leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who said his 11 members of Parliament would not support it.

“Since he appears to be determined to play party political games rather than acting on the wishes of his own members and MPs, he will no longer be able to rely on our support for further no confidence motions,’’ Cable said in an email.

Read more: Beware Parliament’s Plots as May Tries to Solve Brexit Riddle

Military Reserves on Standby for No Deal (12:45 p.m.)

Far from taking a no-deal Brexit off the table as demanded by opposition leaders, May’s government just dialed it up a notch by putting military reserves on standby to help prepare for the contingency.

According to the statement Defence Minister Mark Lancaster, reservists will be on standby to mitigate the impact a no-deal Brexit “might have on the welfare, health and security of U.K. citizens and economic stability of the U.K.”

Significantly, the order takes effect from Feb. 10 and lasts a full year.

Corbyn Offers Hope to Referendum Campaigners (12:30 p.m.)

Jeremy Corbyn gave a sliver of hope to campaigners seeking a second referendum on Brexit when he voluntarily raised it as an option during a speech to Labour Party activists in Hastings. He was loudly applauded when he said it was “on the table” -- and even allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion about the question it might contain.

“I can’t go along with the idea that it should be a re-run of what happened in 2016,’’ the Labour leader said. “There has to be a discussion about what is put forward.”

Corbyn is under pressure from Labour members to push for another referendum, especially after his motion of no confidence in the government was rejected in Parliament last night. But he’s still not given up on trying to force a general election, telling activists he may move another vote of no-confidence to try to unseat May “if necessary.”

May Held Talks With Green Party Leader (11:50 a.m.)

The prime minister has held talks with Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters. Some meetings are being led by May and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, others by May’s de facto deputy David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

“Clearly there are some areas that we aren’t going to agree on but the very purpose of the meetings is to find areas where there is agreement,” Slack said. One are for discussion, he said, was workers’ rights and protections. That’s a key issue for the Labour Party. Slack said he expects the prime minister to meet Labour backbenchers today.

Slack also reiterated that the government is committed to an independent trade policy after Brexit, which in effect rules out a customs union with the EU. He said the government is confident of getting the necessary Brexit legislation passed before exit day on March 29, he said.

Separately, a U.K. official said Labour lawmakers Hilary Benn, who chairs Parliament’s Brexit committee, and Yvette Cooper will be meeting the government for talks on Brexit.

EU Has Raised Issue of Article 50 Extension (11:45 a.m.)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman told reporters the European Union has raised the issue of extending Article 50, and the U.K.’s reply was that “the position of the government is we don’t want to extend.”

“On any number of occasions the prime minister has said it is her intention for the U.K. to leave the EU on March 29,” Slack told reporters when pressed on whether the government was considering delaying Brexit day.

Corbyn Says Referendum Could Be Needed (11:25 a.m.)

The Labour leader gave his strongest backing so far to the idea that a second referendum could be needed to settle Brexit. “If support for the Labour alternative is blocked, our duty will then be to look at other options, including that of a public vote,” he said.

May’s talks are “phoney” and a “stunt” because she is refusing to take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit off the table, Corbyn told an audience in Hastings, England. While he’s not taking part in talks, he said he wants to help find a solution and he would back a deal based on Labour’s Brexit plan. That means a customs union and strong single-market ties.

Vote on Brexit Options Set for Jan. 29 (10.50 a.m.)

Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has just announced that the vote on different Brexit options will take place on Tuesday Jan. 29 -- two months before Britain is due to leave the EU. That’s pushed back from what the government was suggesting yesterday. The idea is to allow MPs to express their Brexit preferences, and see if anything has majority support. The format as currently planned would see different options put forward as amendments, which risks people voting down things that they might actually accept. That could well change under pressure from MPs, though.

Pro-EU Tories Push for Second Referendum (10:40 a.m.)

The small group of Conservative members of Parliament prepared to say publicly there should be a second Brexit referendum have just held a launch event in London. They published polling that suggests the idea would be supported in Tory districts if Parliament remained deadlocked -- but acknowledged it would outrage party activists.

There were fewer than 10 lawmakers present, but Phillip Lee -- who resigned as a justice minister last year in protest at May’s strategy -- said their support runs wider, running to Cabinet ministers, junior ministers and backbenchers “whose heart and probably head is in here.” Many feared a potential backlash from voters or even worse.

Another former minister, Sam Gyimah, was damning about May’s approach to Brexit, saying the current problems were the result of shutting down discussions about trade-offs that should have been opened up. Heidi Allen said the Conservative approach of embracing Brexit in an effort to see off the U.K. Independence Party had been an error: “We shouldn’t be creating our policy around them.”

The group were clear that they aren’t close to having the numbers needed to force their position, but said the value of going public was to give cover to like-minded colleagues.

Spain: ‘Dead-End’ Needs Delay to Resolve (9:30 a.m.)

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in a radio interview the “dead-end” over Brexit can only be fixed if the U.K.’s departure from the European Union is delayed -- but that the “U.K. has to say it needs more time and explain why.”

“That there is no hard Brexit doesn’t depend only on Mrs May,” Borrell told Onda Cero radio. “It will depend on what is proposed and if the other side accepts it or not. But Brexit is an issue of the past. It doesn’t help to build the Europe of the future.”

Meanwhile in Lisbon, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the bloc would move immediately if the U.K. government shifted its red lines on Brexit, telling the Portuguese parliament’s European affairs commission: “We are open to facilitate dialog.”

Blair Says Corbyn Should Meet Prime Minister (9:15 a.m.)

Tony Blair, who led Labour to three general election victories, said current party leader Jeremy Corbyn should meet Prime Minister Theresa May for talks on Brexit -- even if the onus was on the premier to ease her red lines.

“If in a moment of national crisis the PM asks the leader of the opposition to talk, he should go and talk,” Blair said in a BBC Radio interview. There’s no love lost between the two men: Corbyn, a veteran from the far left of the Labour Party, was a serial rebel during Blair’s premiership.

Meanwhile Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, told BBC Radio that May must show “good faith,” and said none of his party’s frontbenchers would hold talks with the Conservatives on Thursday. “We operate as a team.”

With the EU urging May to enter credible cross-party discussions to ensure a unified British position on Brexit, Labour’s stance could soon cause the premier problems: Radical Rethink Needed to Get Brexit Deal, EU Said to Tell May

Coming Up:

  • May expected to continue talks with opposition parties


May Faces Tough Talks With Opponents to Get New Brexit DealRadical Rethink Needed to Get Brexit Deal, EU Said to Tell MayWealthy Europeans Call In the Movers as Brexit Cliff Edge LoomsBrexit Bulletin: All Together Now

--With assistance from Joao Lima and Marek Strzelecki.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at;Robert Hutton in London at;Thomas Penny in London at;Kitty Donaldson in London at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Emma Ross-Thomas at, Tim Ross

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