May to Resume Labour Talks as Farage Builds Lead: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s government is due to resume talks on a Brexit deal with the main opposition Labour Party this week, as pressure on the prime minister grows from her own side to abandon the strategy and step aside.

Key Developments:

  • Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson calls talks “naive” and a “grave mistake” that will damage the Conservative Party
  • Labour Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner says not clear talks with government on Brexit will be successful
  • Justice Minister Robert Buckland says government focused on putting Brexit bill to Parliament
  • Poll shows Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party leading before EU elections on May 23

Firms Underestimate No-Deal Risk: Directors (11:45 a.m.)

U.K. companies and politicians are underestimating the chances of a no-deal Brexit, according to Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors. Britain could tumble out of the European Union by accident or be forced out by EU leaders impatient with the chaos, he said in an interview.

“We do have the risk of no deal happening by accident and businesses still being unprepared,” said Morgan, whose organization has about 30,000 members, comprising company directors and executives. “There’s a bit of a feeling of complacency.”

Hinds: Government Focus on Deal, Not Elections (11:20 a.m.)

With the Conservatives polling so far behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the run-up to European elections on May 23, it’s perhaps not surprising the Tories are drawing little attention to their campaign.

“I’m not sure we need a launch,” Education Secretary Damian Hinds told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “We don’t actually want MEPs to take up their seats -- we want people to vote Conservative but we don’t want them to have to take their seats.”

Hinds defended Theresa May’s strategy of negotiating with the opposition Labour Party on Brexit after heavy criticism from former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson in a newspaper op-ed (see earlier).

“What’s the alternative?” Hinds said, adding that the government needed a “stable majority” to get a deal through Parliament. He said both sides were negotiating in “good spirit,” but repeated the government’s position that if talks fail, the next step will be votes on Plan B options in Parliament.

Farage Says Major Parties Won’t Deliver Brexit (10:40 a.m.)

Buoyed by opinion polls showing his party leading ahead of European elections on May 23, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage gave a combative interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, repeatedly denying that his position had changed on leaving the EU without a deal since the 2016 referendum.

The Brexit agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May is putting to Parliament “isn’t a deal, it’s a new European treaty,” Farage said, adding that his Brexit Party was pushing for a “clean” split from the bloc -- a move he said would put pressure on the EU to sign a free-trade deal. He likened what he described as the “short-term disruption” of a so-called hard Brexit to moving house.

Farage said his party was gaining support because voters see no prospect of the major parties delivering on the referendum. Democracy has replaced issues including immigration and pressure on the National Health Service among voter concerns, he said, responding to a question on whether his new party would run the kind of controversial poster -- depicting immigrants queuing to cross a border -- that Farage’s Brexit campaign ran in 2016.

Government Wants Brexit Bill Passed Soon (10 a.m.)

Justice Minister Robert Buckland said the government is committed to getting the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament as soon as possible, and called on lawmakers to honor the commitment to deliver on the 2016 referendum result.

“Parliament’s in the dock” over Brexit, Buckland said on the Sky News “Sophy Ridge” show.

Buckland also said Theresa May had made it clear she will step down after delivering Brexit and that she doesn’t need to make any further statement on it -- an apparent reference to her scheduled address to the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers this week. Buckland ruled himself out of trying to succeed May as Tory leader.

Labour Trying to ‘Bail Country Out’ in Brexit Talks (9:45 a.m.)

The Labour Party is trying to “bail the country” out in compromise Brexit talks with the government, Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told Sky News, adding that it’s not clear the negotiations can succeed.

Gardiner reiterated Labour’s demand for a Brexit deal to protect worker rights and the environment, and for a customs union with the EU. “Even if we can come to a deal, we don’t know if the successor to Theresa May will deliver on it, and that’s one of the biggest sticking points that we have.”

Referring to the opinion poll in the Observer showing the Brexit Party well ahead of the Conservatives and Labour (see earlier) ahead of EU elections on May 23, Gardiner said the major parties must ensure Nigel Farage isn’t allowed to redefine what the 2016 Brexit referendum meant. Voters made a choice to leave the bloc with a deal, he said, and Labour is committed to doing that.

Blair: Farage Trying to Split Country on Brexit (9:20 a.m.)

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said Brexiteers pushing for a decisive split from the European Union are creating a “swamp” for the U.K. that will take years to escape, and urged the government to put the “true” options to Parliament to find a solution.

“We’ve been obsessed with Brexit for three years, we’ll be obsessed with it for years to come” unless voters make it clear in EU elections that the Brexiteers “don’t speak for Britain,” Blair said on the Sky News “Sophy Ridge” show on Sunday. He was referring to an opinion poll that showed Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the lead ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23.

Blair also rejected the idea of a compromise, soft Brexit deal to unite the country as a “fallacy.” Though “well intentioned,” it would mean the U.K. abiding by EU rules while giving up a seat at the table, he said, adding that would only satisfy a minority of people. Only a Parliament decision, followed by a second referendum, would resolve the issue, he said.

Williamson: Labour Talks Are ‘Grave Mistake’ (Earlier)

Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who was sacked following an inquiry into leaked information from a national security meeting, said Prime Minister Theresa May has “betrayed” the Conservative Party by entering into talks with the opposition Labour Party on a Brexit deal.

Writing in the Daily Mail newspaper, Williamson called May “naive” and predicted that her efforts to use Labour’s support to get her Brexit bill through Parliament would result in “a number of defeats” for the government.

“The prime minister needs to understand that she now is seen by many in the Conservative Party as negotiating with the enemy,” Williamson wrote. “We need to accept that these talks with Labour are fruitless and that not only will they not deliver the Brexit that people voted for, they are a betrayal of the direct instructions the people gave us in 2016 and 2017.”

Polls Shows Farage’s Brexit Party Well Ahead (Earlier)

The Brexit Party has more support in the U.K. ahead of this month’s European Parliament elections than the Conservatives and Labour combined, according to an Opinium survey for the Observer newspaper.

The party, fronted by Nigel Farage and founded only last month, would take 34% of the vote in the May 23 election, compared with 21% for Labour and 11% for Theresa May’s Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats would get 12%.

Earlier:

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