May edges to­wards cus­toms union – but Cor­byn deal could spark Cab­i­net ex­o­dus

Daily Mail - - Brexit In Crisis - By Ja­son Groves, Jack Doyle and Daniel Martin

THERESA May was edg­ing to­wards a cus­toms union deal with Jeremy Cor­byn last night – de­spite warn­ings it would plunge the Tories into civil war.

Down­ing Street said talks with Mr Cor­byn would con­tinue to­day, de­spite a fu­ri­ous re­volt from se­nior Tories at the prospect of push­ing through a soft Brexit deal with the help of Labour’s ‘Marx­ist’ leader.

In a sign that Mrs May is se­ri­ous about a com­pro­mise, her chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Olly Rob­bins was in at­ten­dance to pro­vide ad­vice on op­tions that would have a chance of suc­cess in Brus­sels.

Two min­is­ters re­signed in protest at the de­ci­sion to meet with Mr Cor­byn yes­ter­day, and se­nior Tories warned of an ex­o­dus of Brex­i­teer Cab­i­net min­is­ters.

For­mer party leader Iain Dun­can Smith said: ‘The spec­tre of Cor­byn lord­ing it over us in a prime min­is­te­rial way as he wrecks Brexit makes my blood run cold and fear for my party and my coun­try.’

Cab­i­net min­is­ters be­lieve at least eight mem­bers could quit if the PM agrees to a for­mal cus­toms union with the EU. One source said: ‘It can’t be a per­ma­nent cus­toms union be­cause it’s against the man­i­festo. If you do that then peo­ple will walk.’

Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond later risked a back­lash of his own after he sug­gested there should be a vote on a se­cond ref­er­en­dum.

A group of 19 se­nior Brex­i­teers – in­clud­ing four Cab­i­net min­is­ters – met in An­drea Lead­som’s of­fice yes­ter­day, in a move that will pile more pres­sure on Mrs May. Among those present were Penny Mor­daunt, Chris Grayling and Liz Truss. Mr Cor­byn also faced a back­lash from his own party fol­low­ing the talks, as sources in­di­cated he would not in­sist on a se­cond ref­er­en­dum as the price for a deal.

Those in­volved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions said the two sides were ex­plor­ing whether they could reach agree­ment on a cus­toms union, as well as Labour’s de­mands that the Gov­ern­ment adopts new EU laws on work­ers’ rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards after Brexit. The talks came as: Mrs May in­sisted they were ‘only way to de­liver the smooth, or­derly Brexit we promised’;

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ge­of­frey Cox led Cab­i­net ef­forts to make the case for a cus­toms union com­pro­mise;

Four Tory MPs used Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions to ask Mrs May why she was deal­ing with a man she has branded ‘un­fit for of­fice’;

Euroscep­tic Tory MPs were blocked from hold­ing a sym­bolic vote of no con­fi­dence in Mrs May;

John Ber­cow fast-tracked a change in the law to force Mrs May to seek a longer Brexit de­lay;

Down­ing Street pre­pared for MEP elec­tions on May 23 – but said they could be called off with 24 hours’ no­tice if a deal is struck;

Shadow for­eign sec­re­tary Emily Thorn­berry wrote to Labour MPs say­ing any deal ‘must be sub­ject to a con­fir­ma­tory pub­lic vote’;

Brexit min­is­ter Chris HeatonHar­ris, who re­signed yes­ter­day, said Bri­tain was ready to leave with No Deal next week.

The Prime Min­is­ter made the mo­men­tous de­ci­sion to drop her Brexit red lines and open talks with Mr Cor­byn fol­low­ing a frac­tious Cab­i­net meet­ing on Tues­day. If her talks with Labour are suc­cess­ful, the re­sult­ing deal could be put to a Com­mons vote on Mon­day.

It could then be pre­sented to EU lead­ers at an emer­gency Brus­sels sum­mit on Wed­nes­day, when Mrs May will re­quest a de­lay to the UK’s de­par­ture date – cur­rently set at April 12. Emerg­ing from talks in Mrs May’s Com­mons of­fice yes­ter­day, Mr Cor­byn said the dis­cus­sions had gone ‘very well’.

He later played down ex­pec­ta­tions of a break­through, say­ing: ‘There hasn’t been as much change as I ex­pected.’ Down­ing Street de­scribed the talks as ‘con­struc­tive’. Dis­cus­sions be­tween the two camps will re­sume to­day – but nei­ther Mr Cor­byn nor Mrs May will be in­volved di­rectly.

If the talks fail, No 10 has said it will try to agree a com­pro­mise deal with Par­lia­ment next week through some form of ‘ run- off ’

‘Makes my blood run cold’

with Mrs May’s deal. This would also be likely to in­volve a cus­toms union. Wales Of­fice min­is­ter Nigel Adams became the 35th min­is­ter to quit Mrs May’s gov­ern­ment in the past 12 months yes­ter­day morn­ing. In his res­ig­na­tion letter he said Mrs May was ‘fail­ing’. Mr Heaton- Har­ris, who became num­ber 36, said No Deal prepa­ra­tions were ‘well ad­vanced’ and sug­gested the UK would ‘swiftly over­come’ any prob­lems.

It came as Mr Ham­mond said a ‘con­fir­ma­tory ref­er­en­dum’ on Mrs May’s deal ver­sus Re­main was a ‘per­fectly cred­i­ble propo­si­tion’.

He told ITV’s Pe­ston: ‘Some ideas have been put for­ward which are not ne­go­tiable. But the con­fir­ma­tory ref­er­en­dum idea, many peo­ple will dis­agree with it, I’m not sure there’s a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment for it, but it’s a per­fectly cred­i­ble propo­si­tion and it de­serves to be tested in Par­lia­ment.’

Se­ri­ous: Theresa May leaves Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day. Above: Liz Truss, left, and An­drea Lead­som at­tended a meet­ing of Cab­i­net Brex­i­teers

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