Labour has pulled out of cross-party Brexit talks, with Jeremy Corbyn writing to Theresa May to say that a lack of progress and government instability means the discussions “have now gone as far as they can”.
In a letter to the prime minister, released on Friday, the Labour leader said the talks, designed to find a compromise Brexit plan, had been undermined by both a lack of common ground and concerns about whether a successor to May would stick to any deal.
Theresa May’s spokesman said the view was mutual: “It was clear to the government last night that the talks were not going to reach a successful conclusion.”
Corbyn wrote that the talks had taken place in good faith and had been “constructive”, adding: “However, it has become clear that, while there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us.
“Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”
Corbyn said Labour would “carefully consider” any new proposals, such as the government’s stated next plan of presenting MPs with a series of options to vote on to seek a consensus.
“However, I should reiterate that, without significant changes, we will continue to oppose the government’s deal as we do not believe it safeguards jobs, living standards and manufacturing industry in Britain.”
He cited May’s imminent departure as a reason why Labour had growing doubts “about the government’s ability to deliver on any compromise agreement”.
The prime minister on Thursday promised the executive of the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers that she would set a date for her departure in the first week of June, leading MPs to believe she will trigger a leadership contest before the summer.
Corbyn wrote: “The position of the government has become ever more unstable and its authority eroded. Not infrequently, proposals by your negotiating team have been publicly contradicted by statements from other members of the cabinet.”
May’s spokesman said the talks had “made real progress on some issues, such as workers’ rights and environmental protections, but it is clear we are not going to be able to reach agreement. In particular, there have been very challenging discussions in respect of the two sides on customs and the holding of a second referendum.”
However, he insisted, “it was absolutely in the national interest to enter into these discussions”.
The focus will now move to the possibility of indicative votes in the Commons to find a compromise. According to a leaked government document seen by ITV and others, May wants to hold the votes next week, before a planned vote on a withdrawal agreement in the week starting 3 June.
According to this supposed timetable, MPs could vote on whether to hold a second referendum on a final deal, which has support from many Labour MPs.
May’s spokesman declined to comment on the document, saying only: “We will be considering our next steps”.
Speaking to reporters in north London, Corbyn said of the votes: “This is a novel process which we will obviously look at whenever it comes to parliament.”
He added: “We would not rule out a second referendum. But it wouldn’t be a referendum on 2016 terms, it would be a referendum to prevent a no-deal, catastrophic exit from the European Union.”
May has been under intense pressure from many Conservative MPs since the surprise announcement of the cross-party talks at the start of last month, with Tories fearful she would agree to Labour’s demand for a customs union to get a Brexit plan through parliament.
The pound fell below $1.28 on Friday for the first time since February, after the BBC led its bulletins with predictions of the imminent demise of the talks.
After May met the 1922 Committee executive on Thursday, its chair, Sir Graham Brady, said she would agree a timetable for the election of a new leader after her Brexit legislation returned to parliament for a final attempt in the week of 3 June.
May had previously promised she would step down only after the first stage of a Brexit plan was agreed. However, there is near-unanimous expectation that the bill will be rejected by MPs again that week.