Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, heads to speak to members of the media as she arrives for the European Union (EU) leaders’ summit in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

May Sets Out to Win Labour Rebels' Support Over Brexit Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Ministers in Theresa May’s government are setting out to woo members of the opposition Labour Party, in the hope that they’ll provide enough votes to get her Brexit deal through.

In meetings with Labour members of Parliament considering whether to support the Withdrawal Agreement that May negotiated, ministers including Business Secretary Greg Clark have discussed enhancing British employment rights and environmental protections after Brexit, as well as money for deprived parts of the country -- many of them places which vote Labour.

May Sets Out to Win Labour Rebels' Support Over Brexit Deal
May Sets Out to Win Labour Rebels' Support Over Brexit Deal

One Labour MP involved in the discussions said this was largely about securing guarantees that money that currently comes from the European Union would continue to flow after Brexit.

May’s Brexit deal was soundly rejected by Parliament Jan. 15, and she’s now pledged to go back to Brussels and change it before bringing it back to Parliament for another try. Last year she managed to win about five Labour MPs to her side for several of the votes, but without a majority, and with at least 10 on her own side likely to rebel, she needs many more from Labour.

‘More Fool Them’

Meanwhile, party leader Jeremy Corbyn seems to be doing little to discourage the meetings. One MP who disobeyed what was supposed to be a strict instruction to vote against the government in a key Brexit vote Tuesday said he hadn’t been contacted by party whips either beforehand or since.

May Sets Out to Win Labour Rebels' Support Over Brexit Deal

Corbyn, asked Thursday about his MPs meeting ministers, said that “of course” it was right for them to “demand appropriate resources for their constituencies.” Corbyn is himself both a lifelong euroskeptic and parliamentary rebel. One Labour MP suggested her leader would be relaxed if Brexit was delivered by Labour votes but without his having to publicly support it.

Anti-Brexit Labour MPs were less forgiving of colleagues who might be tempted by government offers. “More fool them,” wrote David Lammy on Twitter. “Cowards and facilitators. History will be brutal.”

The prime minister’s Conservative Party has been putting on a rare show of public unity since Tuesday, when she saw off attempts by Parliament to take control of the Brexit process. But no one expects it to last. Two ministers, speaking privately, expressed concern about what would happen if, as they expected, the European Union didn’t agree to May’s request to replace the controversial Irish backstop section of the U.K.’s Withdrawal Agreement. That could see pro-Brexit Conservative MPs desert May.

That’s why at least one member of the Cabinet took heart from the number of Labour MPs who had voted with the government on Tuesday. In total at least 25 Labour MPs have shown they’re willing to defy instructions to vote against the government on Brexit issues. This minister said the Conservatives needed to talk to other potential supporters in the Labour ranks, as a way of balancing out their own rebels.

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