Theresa May Wins Reprieve From Tories After ‘Difficult’ Talks With Labour
(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May earned a stay of execution from her Conservative Party after a key panel of lawmakers kept the rules on leadership challenges unchanged, as talks with the opposition Labour Party to find a compromise on Brexit gained new life.
The U.K. prime minister agreed to meet with the executive of the so-called 1922 Committee of Tory Members of Parliament next week to discuss her future, its chairman, Graham Brady, told reporters late Wednesday. The pledge comes two weeks after the panel urged the premier to set a clear road map for her departure. Brady also said he expects May to push for a vote on Brexit legislation within two weeks.
Later on, the government and the opposition Labour Party put out statements indicating progress in their talks to forge a consensus on Brexit. May’s office said both parties are acting "with seriousness" and plan to exchange documents, while Labour said in a statement that "the negotiating teams are working to establish scope for agreement."
May is battling to get a Brexit deal approved by Parliament, which three times has rejected the agreement she brokered with the EU, forcing her into the discussions with Labour. The prime minister has told her party she’ll go once that’s done. But that’s not enough for some of her backbenchers, who want to know when she’ll go even if she can’t secure a deal that passes muster.
"We need to make sure we get a final decision soon," said Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP who has called for May’s departure. "Because everybody needs it."
Tory MPs tried and failed to oust the prime minister in December, and under current leadership rules, they can’t challenge her again for a year. But the rules can be changed by the 1922 Committee, which last month rejected doing so. The panel’s executive stopped short of that line once again Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
The meeting broke up just as a new round of talks between May’s ministers and top opposition Labour Party officials began, as the U.K.’s two main parties try to find a common way forward on Brexit. The discussions started more than a month ago, and so far no joint blueprint is in sight. But after Wednesday’s discussions broke up, both the Tories and Labour suggested progress.
"Over the coming days there will be more meetings of the bilateral working groups and further exchanges of documents as we seek to nail down the details of what has been discussed," May’s office said. The premier’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, earlier told reporters in London that the talks had been “difficult,” but constructive.
Labour’s statement that the teams will meet again next week as they seek scope for an agreement was more positive than recent pronouncements. After Tuesday’s round of talks, the party’s business spokeswoman, Rebecca Long-Bailey, had said "the government needs to move on its red lines."
Labour wants the U.K. to be part of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, but May so far has refused to countenance an arrangement that would prevent Britain from striking its own trade deals.
U.S. Urges Progress
Brady said he’d had two "good" meetings with May and had left with the impression that she’s likely to bring forward in coming days legislation to implement her Brexit deal.
"It is the intention to have a further vote probably on second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before the European elections take place," May 23, "and hopefully in the much nearer future than that," Brady said. "That’s my understanding."
May’s officials have previously suggested they’d only bring forward the bill if they were confident Labour would allow it to progress to the next stage. If the legislation is rejected, the premier wouldn’t be able to try again without starting a new Parliamentary session.
One ally wants May to get on with Brexit: U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, on a visit to London, told reporters that President Donald Trump is "eager" to sign a new trade deal with the U.K. to “take our No. 1 trade relationship to unlimited new heights.”
“We’ve filed all the papers we can at this point; we’re ready to go,” Pompeo said. "But we can’t make progress on a new agreement until Brexit gets resolved -- God speed and good luck.”
May had hoped to avoid holding European elections by striking a deal with Labour, but Lidington conceded Tuesday that the vote will have to go ahead.
May’s Conservatives are holding a low-key campaign, and former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s new vehicle, the Brexit Party has surged in the polls. Farage told ITV in an interview Wednesday that the party has had "several" big donations in the order of 100,000 pounds ($130,000).
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday will launch his party’s campaign for the vote railing against "the government’s incompetence and division on Brexit," and pledging to bridge the divide between Remain supporters and Brexiteers, according to a statement from his office.
In a blow to the premier, former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne suggested in an ITV interview that the newspaper he now edits, London’s Evening Standard, may not endorse the Conservatives in the European vote.
"It would be ridiculous if I didn’t vote Conservative," Osborne said. "But that doesn’t mean the Evening Standard will necessarily be recommending a Conservative vote."
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