Theresa May Faces Triple Brexit Questions as She Runs Out of Moves

(Bloomberg) --

The U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party predicted Theresa May will have to accept a customs union with the European Union as the price for getting her Brexit deal ratified in Parliament.

“I think pragmatically, they potentially may have no option in order to push this deal through,” Labour’s business spokeswoman, Rebecca Long-Bailey, told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday when asked about her party’s Brexit negotiations with the government. “It has to be a deal that protects our economy, and we’re not moving on that.”

Cross-party talks on a Brexit compromise started at the beginning of April after May failed for a third time to persuade the House of Commons to accept the divorce agreement she negotiated with Brussels. A person familiar with the prime minister’s thinking said Tuesday she wants a conclusion one way or another next week. Long-Bailey, who has taken part in the negotiations, described them as “positive” and a “two-way street.”

May will face sustained questions about her Brexit strategy in both public and private meetings Wednesday, as she begins to run out of possible moves.

As well as her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session at midday London time, she will have a further 90-minute hearing in front of parliamentary committee chairs at 3 p.m., and at some point in the afternoon is due to meet selected members of her Cabinet to discuss where things go next.

Elections Loom

Although the EU has given May until the end of October to find a solution, elections to the European Parliament scheduled for May 23 are likely to be disastrous for her Conservative Party. Though it is probably too late to pass all the legislation necessary to leave before they happen, the government could still show it is well on the way to leaving the bloc by polling day, and potentially out before the new EU Parliament actually sits.

May, who doesn’t have a parliamentary majority, has repeatedly failed to get all of her Conservative Party to support her deal. With no sign that people on her side are shifting, she’s been forced to look elsewhere for votes.

Channel 4 News reported Tuesday that May is preparing to offer Corbyn most of what Labour wants on Brexit, in the hope he also sees the advantage of getting the issue dealt with. Education Secretary Damian Hinds told reporters that voters were expressing frustration that things were stuck.

Theresa May Faces Triple Brexit Questions as She Runs Out of Moves

“It’s a reality of parliamentary democracy that to do things you need a majority voting in favor,” he said. “I share the sentiment of wanting to get on with things. People do want us to move forward. But we need to have that stable majority to do so.”

But Trade Secretary Liam Fox, speaking at the same event, offered a remark that shows how difficult it is for May to make concessions.

“I don’t mind talking to the Labour Party, I’m just not willing to vote with them against Brexit,” he said. That could be a warning against moving to a customs union, which many Tories say would mean the U.K. hadn’t really left the EU.

Even if May does make Labour an offer, it’s far from clear how many votes Corbyn could deliver. He has already been forced by MPs in his party to accept the possibility of another Brexit referendum -- though Labour’s ruling body agreed on Tuesday it should only be a last resort. The party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, has repeatedly warned that the only way to ensure the support of lots of Labour MPs is to promise another vote.

Without such an offer, May would be asking Corbyn to side with her on something most of his party’s activists oppose, and likely with many of his own MPs -- with whom he has a difficult relationship -- voting against him.

“We are waiting to see if the government moves on any of its positions,” Long-Bailey said.

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