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How is the Tories' crushing local election result impacting on Brexit?

What happens next massively depends on how much longer can Theresa May last in 10 Downing Street.

Local elections Theresa May points to a boy wearing a t-shirt that says 'Future Prime Minister'. Source: Nigel Roddis/PA Images

AFTER A DEVASTATING loss for the Tories and Labour in the local elections last week, and with British Prime Minister Theresa May looking weaker than ever as leader, what impact does all this have on the Brexit process?

In the aftermath of the UK election results, May has urged Labour to cut a deal on Brexit this week, but the main opposition party accused her of acting in “bad faith” – meaning a deal between the two to pass May’s Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons looks as unlikely as ever.

May has insisted the clobbering both main parties took in last week’s English local elections increased the necessity of finding a Brexit deal that a majority of MPs could vote for.

But there are some problems. Speculation is rife that the executive of the 1922 Committee, the group of Tory backbenchers, is pushing for a timetable for May’s departure – and that they’re pushing for a shortlist of new leaders to be circulated by June or July.

This could mean that there’s a new Tory leader that completely scraps May’s Withdrawal Agreement and pushes for a new start to the Brexit process – or who pushes for a no-deal.

Among the names rumoured to succeed May as Tory leader and Prime Minister are Boris Johnson, who has pushed for the Irish backstop to be dropped from the deal; and Dominic Raab, who quit as Brexit secretary because he couldn’t support Theresa May’s Brexit deal (which he had a hand in negotiating for).

The Conservatives and Labour both lost ground in the local elections last Thursday, held in England and Northern Ireland, where voters had a chance to vent their frustration at the Brexit impasse dominating British politics.

Opinion polls suggest they are on course for an even worse pasting in the European Parliament elections, which take place in Britain on 23 May (they’re held on 24 May in Ireland).

May negotiated a withdrawal agreement with Brussels last year, but British MPs repeatedly voted it down, with large numbers of her own Conservative backbenchers joining the opposition in opposing it.

“Let’s listen to what the voters said in the elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let’s do a deal,” May wrote in The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

We have to find a way to break the deadlock – and I believe the results of the local elections give fresh urgency to this.

Confidentiality ‘blown’: McDonnell

The Tory-Labour Brexit talks resume today: the Sunday Times reported that the government was prepared to give way to Labour on three areas: customs, goods alignment and workers’ rights.

According to the report, May would set out plans for a temporary customs arrangement with the EU that would last until the next general election, which must be held by May 2022.

But McDonnell said the talks had been undermined by the article, blaming May for trying to firm up her own shaky position.

“We have maintained confidentiality,” he told BBC television.

So it is disappointing the prime minister has broken that, and I think it is an act of bad faith.

When asked if he trusted May, he said: “No. Sorry. Not after this weekend when she has blown the confidentiality we had, and I actually think she has jeopardised the negotiation for her own personal protection.”

May has said she will step aside once a Brexit deal has been passed by parliament, but after Friday’s election results she has come under pressure to go sooner.

The original date that the UK was due to leave the EU was 29 March. This date was pushed back to 12 April after the UK parliament couldn’t decide what type of Brexit they wanted. The date that the UK must leave the EU by is now the 31 October; although if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is passed in the House of Commons before then, the UK would leave weeks after that vote. 

A ‘check-in’ is scheduled to take place at the end of June as part of the extension granted by the EU.

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New International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said the ball was now in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s court. adding that if Corbyn wanted to do a Brexit deal with May “it will be actually surprisingly easy to do because our positions are very, very close”.

Stewart said he would run to replace May when the time comes.

Anger at ‘stitch-up’

The newly-formed Brexit Party is leading the opinion polls for the upcoming European elections.

Its leader, eurosceptic figurehead Nigel Farage, said any deal between Labour and the Conservatives to keep Britain in the EU’s customs union would be the “final betrayal” of Brexit voters.

“If May signs up to this, I can’t see the point of the Conservative Party even existing,” he told Sky News.

Millions of people would give up on both Labour and the Conservatives.

Meanwhile more than 100 opposition MPs have written to May and Corbyn to say they would vote against any agreement the pair reach unless it is subject to a new referendum.

“The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up, whether over the PM’s deal or another deal,” the letter says.

- with reporting from AFP

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