NEW YORK: Prime Minister Theresa May defended her decision to ask arch rival Jeremy Corbyn to help draft a new blueprint for Brexit, and warned the UK might never leave the European Union if he doesn’t back a compromise plan.
“The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all,” May said in a statement. “It would mean letting Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers. I will not stand for that.”
May is battling to contain a backlash from within her Conservative Party over her decision to work with Labour Party leader Corbyn, someone she’s spent three years deriding.
Coming up with an acceptable compromise to her own lawmakers in response to the 2016 referendum has been beyond her, and the deadlock shows no sign of being resolved by reaching out to the opposition.
May badly needs a breakthrough in London before she travels to Brussels on Wednesday.
She’s requested an extension to the Brexit process until June 30, but says if MPs agree to a deal, the UK should be able to leave before European parliamentary elections are held May 23. Education Minister Nadim Zahawi told the BBC that taking part in those elections would be a “suicide note” for the Conservative Party.
May sought to underline that both main political parties have a lot of common ground to secure an agreement.
“We both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs,” she said.
But her efforts to forge a compromise across political boundaries look to be dribbling into the sand.
The Labour Party says May hasn’t offered “real change” to her Brexit deal that Parliament has rejected three times – by chunky margins on each occasion. Labour’s key demand is for a customs union with the EU.
According to the Sunday Times, May is prepared to cede some ground. She’ll offer to rewrite the government’s withdrawal bill to make sure a customs arrangement is enshrined in law, a move that would be hard for a future euroskeptic PM to retract after May steps down.
Also, her aides have discussed offering Labour a seat in her delegation to Wednesday’s EU summit, the newspaper reported.
And while EU leaders aren’t united on how long the extension should last, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told RTE on Saturday it would be “extremely unlikely” that one of the EU’s 27 other countries would veto May’s request.