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Tory government has 'no red lines' as it seeks to find Brexit compromise with Labour, minister says

Chancellor Philip Hammond says he expects “some form of agreement” to be reached with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

Hammond is known to favour a softer Brexit
Hammond is known to favour a softer Brexit
Image: Alastair Grant/PA Images

THE UK CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has said the government had “no red lines” in talks with the main opposition party to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit.

“Our approach to these discussions with Labour is that we have no red lines,” he told reporters at a meeting of European finance ministers in Bucharest.

“We are expecting to exchange more texts with the Labour Party today, so this is an ongoing process and I expect we will reach some form of agreement,” Hammond added.

Senior ministers are negotiating with Labour leaders in a bid to find a compromise to end months of political crisis and allow Britain to leave the European Union smoothly after 46 years of membership.

But after three days of discussions, Labour said yesterday it was “disappointed” by the failure to offer “real change or compromise” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit divorce deal.

MPs have rejected her agreement finalised with European leaders last November three times, delaying Britain’s original 29 March exit date and throwing the process into chaos.

Ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday, May was forced to ask for another extension, until 30 June, to prevent the country crashing out the bloc next Friday.

However with European leaders growing increasingly impatient at the paralysis in Westminster, they could offer just a shorter postponement – or a longer period of up to a year.

The other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension.

If there is any longer extension to Brexit, then it will mean that the UK must hold European Elections in May.

This is also proving unpalatable to many Conservatives that – three years after voting to leave the EU – the UK would be electing new parliamentarians to Europe.

Education Minister Nadhim Zawahi told BBC’s Today programme today that it would be a “suicide note of the Conservative Party if we had to fight the European elections”.

Holding the elections would pose an “existential threat” to the Conservatives and Labour as it would be an admission they’d failed to deliver Brexit, he added.

Flexibility

Hammond, who backed remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum and is seen as favouring as soft a Brexit as possible, urged his divided Conservative colleagues to show flexibility.

“We should be open to listen to suggestions that others have made and some people in the Labour Party are making other suggestions,” he said.

Labour is pushing May to accept a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the EU that includes participation in a customs union.

The prime ministers has previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.

But after Brexit hardliners in her own party repeatedly refused to back her plan over fears it would keep the country too closely aligned with Europe, she last week turned to Labour – infuriating many Conservatives.

Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott said her party was engaged in the talks “in good faith”, but May’s team appear unwilling to compromise.

“There is concern that the government doesn’t want to alter the political declaration,” she told the BBC, referring to the part of May’s deal outlining the future relationship with the EU.

“The government perhaps has to show a little more flexibility than it seems to have done so far.” 

With reporting from Sean Murray

 © AFP 2019  

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