Cross-party talks on a Brexit compromise collapsed on Friday (17 May) after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Prime Minister Theresa May that the talks “have now gone as far as they can”.
“While there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us,” Corbyn said in a letter to May.
“Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”
Talks between Labour and May’s government have been running for over a month, after MPs failed to agree on an alternative Brexit deal to May’s Withdrawal Agreement, but made little progress.
May’s team refused to budge on Labour’s chief demand in the talks, for the UK to stay in a permanent customs union with the EU. Corbyn’s party is demanding a general election and has left open the option of a second referendum on Brexit.
The collapse of the talks became inevitable after rebel Conservative MPs made clear they would not support May’s Brexit deal and insisted that she step down before the summer, fearing that the recent surge of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party poses a risk of losing a hefty chunk of Conservative votes.
Farage’s party is set to comfortably top next week’s European elections. At the same time, the Tories have fallen to 22% in polls if a general election was called.
May will bring her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement back before MPs for a fourth, and likely final, vote in the week beginning June 3. Defeat, which is widely expected, would mean that it would be abandoned and would force her to resign.
The Conservatives are now gearing up for a leadership contest in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, Boris Johnson confirmed that he will stand to replace May as Tory party leader and prime minister, the biggest name in what is already a long list of candidates. Cabinet ministers Sajjid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom and Liz Truss, as well as former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, are all expected to run
At a meeting of her backbench MPs on Thursday, May promised to set out the timetable for her departure following the June vote. In the unlikely event that the Withdrawal Agreement passes, she has said that she will resign the leadership after the UK has left the EU, which is due to take place on October 31.
Conservatives are anxious to have a new leader in place before the summer parliamentary recess in July.
After spending two unhappy years as foreign secretary, Johnson resigned from May’s government in protest at her White Paper on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. He has vowed to re-open negotiations with the EU on Brexit if elected.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]