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DUP 'open to softer Brexit' as May's talks with Corbyn continue

Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons yesterday
Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons yesterday
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour MP Yvette Cooper
Comments: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Talks between the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn will continue today after the Labour leader described discussions about a Brexit compromise as "useful but inconclusive".

The DUP last night indicated that it might be prepared to support a softer Brexit, with MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suggesting a customs union as a temporary staging post.

Earlier, the DUP blasted Theresa May's handling of Brexit negotiations as "lamentable".

Sir Jeffrey told the BBC: "We would have preferred a form of Brexit that enables the UK to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries.

"That's part of the reason for Brexit and maybe a customs union might be a temporary staging post towards that objective.

"We will wait to see what the Prime Minister brings before Parliament, but we are clear - we want a Brexit that delivers for all of the United Kingdom and that keeps the United Kingdom together. That is our objective."

The Lagan Valley MP insisted that parliamentary arithmetic meant the DUP retained its influence at Westminster and said its position on the Union was "unpersuadable" .

Mrs May's meeting with Mr Corbyn sparked fury among the Tories, with two ministers resigning and a string of backbenchers voicing their anger during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

She is trying to broker a deal with the Labour leader that would allow her to obtain a short delay to Brexit at an emergency EU summit on April 10.

Mr Corbyn described the meeting in her Commons office as "useful but inconclusive".

He added: "There has not been as much change as I expected."

In formal statements, both sides described the talks as "constructive".

A Labour spokesman said: "We have had constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock.

"We have agreed a programme of work between our teams to explore the scope for agreement."

Downing Street said both sides had shown "flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close". A spokesman added: "We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security."

Intensive technical discussions by the negotiating teams are expected today.

Mrs May has said she hopes to find a solution which both leaders can support or, failing that, a system of indicative votes which both will recognise as binding.

In a boost to the Prime Minister, MPs failed in a bid to take over the Commons timetable on Monday for a third round of indicative votes on Brexit alternatives, with Speaker John Bercow wielding his casting vote after MPs split 310-310.

MPs voted by a majority of one to allow a cross-party bid to pass legislation to block a no-deal Brexit in a single day on Wednesday, with a majority of five then agreeing to a second reading.

Earlier, Wales Minister Nigel Adams denounced Mrs May's decision to meet Mr Corbyn as a "grave error" as he announced his resignation.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote: "It now seems that you and your cabinet have decided that a deal cooked up with a Marxist who has never once in his political life put British interests first is better than no-deal. I profoundly disagree with this approach."

Meanwhile, Chris Heaton-Harris resigned from the Department for Exiting the EU with a warning that the PM was being badly advised over the risks of no-deal.

He maintained that the UK would "swiftly overcome" any difficulties caused by quitting the EU without an agreement.

Mrs May's evident determination to avoid no-deal had made his job "irrelevant", he stated.

In his resignation letter, he said civil servants had "moved mountains" to ensure a no-deal Brexit could go ahead smoothly.

Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Mrs May of planning to collaborate with "a known Marxist".

The Prime Minister told MPs that the purpose of her meeting with Mr Corbyn was "to look at those areas we agree on". She said: "I think we both want to deliver leaving the EU with a deal.

"I think we both want to protect jobs. I think we both want to ensure that we end free movement. I think we both recognise the importance of the withdrawal agreement.

"What we want to do now is find a way forward that can command the support of this House and deliver on Brexit, deliver on the result of the referendum and ensure that people can continue to have trust in their politicians doing what they ask us to do."

She also met Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Following his meeting, Mr Corbyn said he put forward Labour's view that "we want to achieve a customs union with the EU, we want to have access to the market and, in particular, we discussed the dynamic regulatory alignment that is guaranteeing European regulations as a minimum on the environment as well as consumer and employment rights".

To the fury of some Tories who strenuously oppose any involvement in a customs union, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said a softer Brexit was "the remorseless logic of the numbers of the House of Commons".

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