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Labour open to compromise on Johnson’s Brexit deal, says McDonnell

The shadow chancellor says Labour is ready for a general election but refuses to say if they would back a Commons vote to go to the polls.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour is still open to ‘compromise’ on the Brexit Bill timetable (Victoria Jones/PA)
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour is still open to ‘compromise’ on the Brexit Bill timetable (Victoria Jones/PA)
Boris Johnson has told EU leaders he does not want another Brexit delay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Labour has said it remains open to a “compromise” with the Government which could allow Boris Johnson to get his Brexit deal through Parliament.

Following inconclusive talks between the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said a “dialogue” with ministers was continuing.

Mr Johnson has said he is ready to push for a general election after his attempt to fast-track the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons hit the buffers on Tuesday.

The Cabinet is meeting in political session on Thursday – without civil servants present – heightening speculation they will seek to go for a December poll.

However, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) that would require a two-thirds “super majority” of MPs – effectively meaning Labour support would be necessary.

Speaking to reporters at Westminster, Mr McDonnell said that Labour was ready for an election “whenever it comes”.

However he refused to be drawn on whether it would vote for a motion tabled under the FTPA.

“We will see what happens. We are trying to take this in stages. We will confront that hurdle when we see it,” he said.

The Labour Party are running scared and I can completely understand why James Cleverly

Earlier Tory Party chairman James Cleverly accused Labour of “running scared” of a general election amid continuing “confusion” over its position on Brexit.

“We’ve been calling for a general election, me personally, the Prime Minister, my friends and colleagues all around the country, for months now,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“The Labour Party are running scared and I can completely understand why, their Brexit message is confused at best.”

His attack comes amid reports of widespread opposition to an early election among Labour MPs, with the party trailing in the polls.

Mr McDonnell acknowledged there was “a difference of views” within the party but added: “Once an election is in the offing people usually rally together.”

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Boris Johnson has told EU leaders he does not want another Brexit delay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He said their priority was to show it was still possible for Mr Johnson to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament, provided there was an opportunity for MPs to table and debate amendments – including on a second referendum.

He suggested that it could be done in “a matter of days rather than weeks”.

“At the moment our prime purpose is to demonstrate that we are willing to compromise in the parliamentary process,” he said.

“We want a proper process but that must include the ability to put amendments up and that must include the ability to put an amendment up that enables it to go back to the people.”

Mr Johnson has said he is prepared to abandon the Bill altogether and press for an election if he is forced to accept another lengthy Brexit delay, potentially running into the new year.

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French President Emmanuel Macron is said to be pressing for a shorter delay (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

Officially the Government remains committed to leaving in a week’s time on October 31, but after the past week’s events at Westminster that would appear all but impossible.

EU leaders are expected to agree on Friday to a so-called “flextension” to the end of January, with the option for the UK to leave before then if there is agreement in Parliament on a deal.

That would be in line with the request which Mr Johnson was forced to submit under the terms of the Benn Act after he failed to gain approval for his deal at Saturday’s special sitting of Parliament.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron is reported to be pressing for a much shorter delay to the middle of November to keep the pressure on MPs at Westminster.

If leaders cannot come to an agreement it could mean there will have to be an EU emergency summit, probably on Monday.

PA

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