PM responds to letter
May rejects Corbyn’s demand for UK-EU customs deal
Letter: Theresa May has responded to the Labour leader
Theresa May has snubbed Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of a compromise on Brexit, adding to business fears that the UK will crash out of Europe with No Deal.
The prime minister specifically objected to the Labour leader’s call for Britain to stay in a customs union with the EU, although she agreed to more talks. She said a customs union would prevent the UK negotiate its own trade agreements.
Mrs May wants the two parties to discuss how “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop – a commitment to avoid a hard border – could work. Mrs May indicated that she might agree a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, but gave little sign of yielding to Mr Corbyn’s other demands.
Mr Corbyn last week wrote to the Prime Minister setting out five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal. In her response Mrs May told the Labour leader: “It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.”
This is despite Mr Corbyn repeatedly saying there should be a general election if Mrs May cannot get a deal through Parliament. He has also faced pressure from some of his MPs to push for another public vote on Brexit.
Labour has asked for “a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union” with the EU, with the same external tariff. It would give the UK a say on any future trade deals that the EU may strike.
Mrs May does not agree, and wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”
The existing Political Declaration, setting out the goals for the future relationship between the UK and the EU, “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union – no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors and no checks on rules of origin”, Mrs May told Mr Corbyn.
It also recognises the development of the UK’s independent trade policy, she added. Mrs May said securing frictionless trade for goods was “one of our key negotiating objectives”.
She added: “The fundamental negotiating challenge here is the EU’s position that completely frictionless trade is only possible if the UK stays in the single market.
“This would mean accepting free movement, which Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto made clear you do not support.”
The communities secretary, James Brokenshire said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions.
“If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he said.
SNP calls for Labour MPs to ‘stand up for Scotland’
Ian Blackford has called on Scottish Labour MPs to stand up for Scotland’s interests by rejecting the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and ruling out support for Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to help push her deal over the line.
In a letter to all Scottish Labour MPs, the SNP’s Westminster leader warned that supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Brexit plans would serve a “devastating blow” to communities across Scotland.
Mr Blackford, pictured, said: “We are less than 50 days away from Brexit date and in Westminster both the Prime Minister and Leader of the so-called Opposition are leading Scotland and the UK hand in hand off the Brexit cliff-edge.
“By 2030, under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – the closest proxy for the Prime Minister’s proposal – GDP would be around £9 billion lower than if we stayed in the EU, equivalent to £1,600 per person in Scotland than if we remained in the EU.
“That is a price that Scotland should not be forced to pay. When the Prime Minister returns to Parliament with her deal, Scottish Labour MPs must stand up for Scotland’s economic and social interests, and reject the Prime Minister’s deal and Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to throw his support behind it.
“It is alarming that, despite the overwhelming damage that the Prime Minister’s deal will cause to Scotland, the Labour Leader would seek to support the deal.
“I call on Scottish Labour MPs to reject the Prime Minister’s deal, support the SNP’s calls for an extension to Article 50 and back a second referendum on EU membership.”