Updated at 1.20pm
JEREMY CORBYN LAMBASTED Theresa May over the collapse of Brexit negotiations as the British Prime Minister took questions in the Commons this afternoon.
The Labour leader, at one point, referred to May and her ministers as a “bunch of jellyfish masquerading as a cabinet,” paraphrasing a line of criticism this week from a well-known Tory donor.
Corbyn failed to deliver any killer blows, however. May gave assurances that all sides were still talking to each other, and that progress had been made. She conceded at one point (to laughs) that there were “still a couple of things we are negotiating on”.
May finally spoke to the DUP’s Arlene Foster today too – the pair spoke by phone in advance of Prime Minister’s Questions. There were no major breakthroughs during the call, however.
May insisted that current Brexit discussions were focusing on maintaining continued cross-border trade while ensuring the constitutional integrity of the UK.
“We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” she said.
“We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and we will be able to do that while we respect the internal market of the United Kingdom.”
After shouts of “how” erupted from the opposition benches, May replied that that was the entire point of phase two of the talks.
How did we get here?
The DUP pulled the plug on a deal that would allow EU-UK talks to move onto the next phase, focusing on trade, on Monday after reports emerged that London and Dublin were ready to sign off on a deal committing to “continued regulatory alignment” between the North and the Republic.
The wording was seen as an artful fudge that would allow both sides to move on with the talks. A press conference scheduled for Government Buildings, at which a breakthrough was expected to be announced, was postponed for hours – with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar later telling reporters he was “surprised and disappointed that the British Government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier”.
Speaking at Leaders’ Questions today in the Dáil, Varadkar told Green Party leader Eamon Ryan that he would be talking to May in the coming days and would meet the Prime Minister of the Netherlands tonight.
“It is the role of the UK to come back to us … there are different views in her own party and she also has to manage the confidence and supply agreement,” he added, referring to the Conservative-DUP pact signed after this year’s UK election.
He reiterated that Ireland wanted to move on to phase two. If not possible “we can pick it up in the new year”, he added.
We stand by the text that was agreed Monday.
However Arlene Foster has said the two sides “need to look at the text, make it clear what we cannot agree with and try to work through all of that”.
The EU has said Britain must make “sufficient progress” in negotiations on the Irish border, the future status of EU citizens and a financial agreement to unlock negotiations on post-Brexit trade arrangements.
European leaders have given May a deadline of the end of this week to resolve outstanding issues in order to draft an agenda in time for a crucial EU summit next Thursday and Friday and open this second phase of talks.
‘Upcoming presidential election’
Last night, in another baffling take on Irish politics, former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith reaffirmed his opinion that Ireland’s harsh Brexit stance was due to the potential for an upcoming presidential election.
He told the BBC: “You know this Irish stuff was not at this state some months ago. Now it’s suddenly become an issue because the Irish, for political reasons internally, presidential elections, disputes between the two elements of the same party, they suddenly laid this on.”
Duncan Smith added that the UK should walk away from the Brexit negotiations if the European Union does not change its position.
“You need to change this process, and back off, or we get on with other arrangements… we would rather have the trade deal, but not at any price,” he said.
We have given every assurance under the sun to the Irish. Everybody knows we are not going to have a hard border in Northern Ireland… They know that, we know that. It is a game being played out over power.
- With reporting from Sean Murray, Christina Finn and AFP