LONDON • Theresa May’s government declared Brexit talks are “deadlocked” as ministers urged the European Union (EU) to make a last minute concession to stop the deal being thrown out by Parliament this week.
May’s office said yesterday that she spoke to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker by telephone late on Sunday, but the prime minister (PM) is not planning to travel to Brussels because no progress is being made in the negotiations.
The gloomy assessment from Downing Street followed appeals from Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, a leading Brexit supporter, for “one last heave” by British and EU negotiators to help win a crucial vote on the exit deal in Parliament today.
Leadsom appealed to Labour, Conservative and Scottish Nationalist Party members to back the deal and defer seeking changes until they debate legislation in the weeks ahead.
“I think we all need to support the PM,” Leadsom said in an interview. That would mean “that we can move on” while leaving open the possibility to “potentially amend how we do this”, she said.
While negotiations are continuing, the stalemate follows an offer from the EU last Friday, which was instantly rejected by the British side.
If May’s deal is voted down this week, Parliament will then get a vote on whether to delay Brexit to avoid a chaotic no-deal exit. Pound investors are already pricing in postponement, which could allow lawmakers time to push for a softer Brexit, or even scrap the divorce altogether.
Some MPs are telling May to pull the vote because they expect a defeat on a similar scale to the historic defeat she suffered in January, the Times reported.
The PM has warned that a defeat risks scuttling her blueprint for Brexit and replacing it with a scaleddown plan, potentially keeping the UK inside the EU’s single market and customs union. For pro-Brexit campaigners, that would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
Cabinet ministers urged their Tory colleagues on Sunday to support May’s deal, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying both the EU and British parliamentarians need to be “realistic”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted defeat is not inevitable.
“Benjamin Franklin said of the US Constitution, ‘I vote for this with all its faults’ and I think that’s the approach that we need to take on Tuesday,’’ Hancock told Sky News.
Outlining tactics for today’s vote, the Opposition Labour Party said it wouldn’t offer an amendment to force a second referendum.
“There is a growing feeling that Tuesday should be a straight up-down vote on the deal,’’ Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, told Sky News. “Tuesday is about exposing the weakness of the PM.” — Bloomberg