LONDON: Cross-party talks to jumpstart plans for Brexit are expected to resume before the UK’s Friday deadline for leaving the European Union (EU), and the opposition Labour Party is hopeful the country’s political impasse can be resolved, a party negotiator said on Sunday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May reluctantly reached out to Labour lawmakers on Tuesday after parliament voted down her divorce deal with the EU for the third time.
The move infuriated pro-Brexit lawmakers in her Conservative Party, and three days of bargaining with the opposition didn’t yield a compromise agreement.
While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faulted the government, saying it showed no willingness to budge from its previous Brexit positions, Labour business minister Rebecca Long-Bailey held out hope and said further talks are expected.
The discussions’ “overall mood is quite a positive and hopeful one” despite the government’s “disappointing” failure to shift its stance on several issues, she said.
“The sad thing is at the moment, we haven’t seen overall any real changes to the deal, but we are hopeful that will change in coming days, and we are willing to continue the talks as we know the government are,” Long-Bailey told the BBC.
“We are currently waiting for the government to come back to us now to state whether they are prepared to move on any of their red lines,” she added.
Labour’s key demand is for a customs union with the EU post-Brexit to protect the flow of goods.
Hard-line Brexiteers vehemently oppose any proposal that would continue to bind the UK to EU tariff rules and restrict Britain’s ability to strike its own free trade deals around the world.
Long-Bailey insisted that Labour wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit “in any situation” and was prepared to cancel Brexit rather than see Britain crash out of the EU with no agreement in place, an outcome expected to wreak havoc on businesses and disrupt travel throughout Europe.
But Conservative lawmaker Andrea Leadsom said on Sunday a no-deal scenario wouldn’t be “nearly as grim as many would advocate.” She said the governing party was working “through gritted teeth” with Labour to find a compromise, but its bottom line is Britain leaving the EU.
The bloc agreed last month to postpone Brexit day, originally set for March 29, and set April 12 as the new deadline under certain conditions.
Britain has until Friday to approve the existing withdrawal agreement, to change course and seek a further delay to Brexit, or to crash out of the EU without an agreement.
May has asked the remaining EU countries for another postponement that would extend to June 30, hoping to secure an alternative deal from the opposition negotiations and Parliament in a matter of weeks.
Other European leaders are expected to respond to the delay request during a summit in Brussels scheduled for Wednesday.
May on Saturday acknowledged that the government’s strategies to get her Brexit deal approved in Parliament failed, saying Saturday there’s little prospect lawmakers will back the thrice-rejected divorce agreement “in the near future.”
May pressured opposition lawmakers to help her find a compromise agreement instead, saying voters “expect their politicians to work together when the national interest demands it.”
“I haven’t noticed any great change in the government’s position so far,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Saturday. “I’m waiting to see the red lines move.”
May now is asking for Britain’s departure to be pushed back until June 30, hoping to reach a compromise with Labour and a deal through Parliament in a matter of weeks.
“The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all,” May said in a statement.
An extension requires unanimous approval from the 27 remaining leaders, some of whom are fed up with Brexit uncertainty and reluctant to prolong it further.
The leaders of EU member countries are due to meet in Brussels on Wednesday – two days before the April 12 deadline – to consider Britain’s request for a second extension.
Economists and business leaders have warned a no-deal Brexit would severely disrupt trade and travel, with tariffs and customs checks causing gridlocked British ports and possible shortages of some foods, medicines and other products.