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Labour warns May she must give ground if she wants a Brexit deal

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey says ministers might have ‘no option’ but to move towards Labour on a customs union.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, right, is part of Labour’s Brexit negotiating team (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, right, is part of Labour’s Brexit negotiating team (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Government may have no option but to give ground on key Labour demands on Brexit if it wants to get a deal through Parliament, a senior shadow minister has warned.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said “pragmatically” ministers might have to move towards Labour’s position on a customs union if cross-party talks aimed at ending the deadlock were to succeed.

Her comments came amid reports that Environment Secretary Michael Gove had warned ministers they may have to offer concessions so Jeremy Corbyn could claim victory in the talks and sell the deal to his MPs.

Mr Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, said it would be better to accept the “unpalatable” outcome of a deal with Labour than the “disastrous” outcome of Brexit not happening at all, according to The Daily Telegraph.

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Micheal Gove is said to have warned that a deal with Labour is better than a ‘disastrous’ no Brexit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A Downing Street source said that Mrs May’s views on the importance of the UK being able to strike its own trade deals after Brexit were well-known.

But pressed on whether she was ready to contemplate a customs union of some sort, he added: “We believe that leaving the EU with a negotiated deal is the right thing to do and in order to do that we will need compromise on both sides of the talks.”

Characterising the progress of cross-party talks as “productive”, the Number 10 source said: “We are hopeful it may be possible to come to an agreement.”

A Labour source said the party’s negotiators had seen “clear evidence that the Government is prepared to explore shifts in its position”, but said that no movement away from Mrs May’s red lines had yet been “locked down”.

Ms Long-Bailey, who is part of the Labour negotiating team, indicated that movement by ministers on the issue of the customs union – which Labour supports but Theresa May has consistently opposed – may be key to a solution.

“I think pragmatically that they potentially may have no option in order to be able to push this deal through,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

She added that Labour was now waiting to see how much ground the Government was prepared to give before deciding whether it could make concessions of its own.

“We are fleshing out the details to see how far the Government can move towards us and then we will be able to ascertain how far we are able to move towards them,” she said.

We want to take a view on the whole package, the whole deal, to see if there has been any true movement Rebecca Long-Bailey

“There are certain issues that we think they will be prepared to move on and we might be prepared to support certain positions.

“There are certain areas which we haven’t seen any movement at all.

“We want to take a view on the whole package, the whole deal, to see if there has been any true movement.”

Her comments came after Mrs May’s de facto deputy David Lidington told the Cabinet on Tuesday that the latest round of discussions had been “serious and constructive”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said further talks were being scheduled “in order to bring the process toward a conclusion”.

Some Tory MPs and ministers however remain deeply unhappy at the prospect of a deal with a left-wing Labour Party led by Mr Corbyn.

People who voted Remain and voted Labour will not vote Labour again Jess Phillips MP

Their concerns come amid fears the Conservatives face heavy losses in the local elections on Thursday as voters vent their fury at the Government’s failure to leave the EU, as promised, on March 29.

Mr Corbyn meanwhile faces divisions in his own party after the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) made clear the party would only back a second referendum as a “last option”.

Deputy leader Tom Watson had been leading a drive for the party to take a more positive line on a further popular vote, but he was defeated by supporters of Mr Corbyn at a marathon six-hour session of the NEC on Tuesday.

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Tom Watson failed to get Labour to take a more positive line on a second referendum (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

A party source made clear its manifesto for the European elections on May 23 would commit Labour to supporting a fresh vote only if the party could not either win the changes it wants to Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement or secure a general election.

A Labour spokesman said they were committed to working “to bring the country together after the chaos and crisis created by the Tories”.

However the move angered some MPs who back a second referendum and who fear the party will now haemorrhage support among pro-Remain voters.

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(PA Graphics)

Backbencher Jess Phillips said: “I think people who voted Remain and voted Labour will not vote Labour again.

“I do think we’ll get a drubbing in the European elections. All the main parties are going to get a drubbing in the European elections.”

A senior Labour source played down the prospects of rifts in the party if the leadership was seen to be helping the Conservatives deliver Brexit.

“I don’t think there is any question of splits,” he said.

PA

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