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Labour's negotiating team hold 'productive' Brexit talks with Tories

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey leave the Cabinet Office in Westminster on April 4, 2019 in London, England. British Prime Minister Theresa May continues talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today to try to agree a compromise Brexit deal
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey leave the Cabinet Office in Westminster on April 4, 2019 in London, England. British Prime Minister Theresa May continues talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today to try to agree a compromise Brexit deal

By David Hughes

Talks between the Government and Labour to break the Brexit logjam have been "productive" and will continue today, Downing Street said last night.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's negotiating teams met for four-and-a-half hours in the Cabinet Office yesterday for "detailed" talks.

The talks are aimed at finding a consensus Brexit position ahead of a crunch summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on April 10.

David Lidington, effectively the deputy prime minister, led the Government's negotiating team with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Chief Whip Julian Smith, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Theresa May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell.

On the other side of the table were shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey along with senior Labour officials.

A Downing Street spokesman said the "detailed and productive technical talks" were supported by civil servants.

Any decision on an extension to Brexit in order to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on April 12 will be taken by EU leaders at the upcoming European Council summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was still hopeful that a no-deal Brexit could be avoided as "where there's a will there's a way".

The talks in Westminster between the Government and Opposition have highlighted divisions within both the Tory and Labour ranks.

Backbench Labour MPs have issued a warning to Mr Corbyn not to include a second Brexit referendum in any compromise deal thrashed out with Mrs May.

Arriving for the talks in Whitehall, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir confirmed that a "confirmatory" referendum was among the ideas on the table for discussion.

But a group of 25 Labour MPs wrote to Mr Corbyn warning that a second public vote would "divide the country further and add uncertainty for business".

Meanwhile, a string of Cabinet ministers signalled that Tories could be prepared to compromise on Labour's key demand of a customs union arrangement with the EU - an idea loathed by Brexiteers.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said avoiding a customs union was not an "article of faith", while Chancellor Philip Hammond said Tories should be ready to look at it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he preferred Mrs May's deal to a customs union, but added: "I have spoken about the problems of a customs union and I don't think it's as good for the country. But I also want to deliver Brexit."

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