Labour talks with PM progress – but pressure rises over public vote

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament

Following a meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May this afternoon, further cross-party talks are set to take place with the aim of finding a compromise Brexit deal that could secure a Commons majority.

Commenting on the initial meeting, a Labour spokesperson 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.”

Striking a similarly positive tone, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Today’s talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close. We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security.”

The meeting today was attended by Jeremy Corbyn, his spokesman, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Nick Brown from Labour’s side; the Prime Minister, Steve Barclay, Julian Smith, Gavin Barwell and officials from the government.

It is understood that each side has agreed to appoint a negotiating team – Labour’s will be Starmer, Long-Bailey and Brown in terms of politicians – and to hold a planning meeting tonight in parliament. Tomorrow, technical discussions will be had throughout the day.

LabourList understands that the Labour leader went into talks with his five demands for Brexit – including a customs union – as the basis for negotiating a cross-party agreement. Another referendum has not been mentioned so far by the leadership as a condition for supporting a deal.

But frontbencher Emily Thornberry has emailed all Labour MPs calling for any deal agreed to be subject to a confirmatory public vote, The New Statesman revealed today.

A letter to Corbyn and the shadow cabinet was also sent from 12 Labour MPs of the ‘Love Socialism Hate Brexit’ parliamentary group, including Corbyn supporters Clive Lewis and Kate Osamor, saying a “public vote must be our bottom line”.

UNISON voted to endorse the idea at a meeting of its national executive committee today, joining GMB and other big trade unions in their support for another referendum. Unite, arguably the closest of the unions to the Labour leader, has not backed the policy.

Update, 7pm: On the meeting, Corbyn said: “There hasn’t been as much change as I expected but we will have further discussions tomorrow to explore technical issues.

“I put forward the view from the Labour Party that we want to achieve a customs union with the EU, access to the single market and dynamic regulatory alignment, that is a guarantee of European regulations as a minimum on the environment, consumer and workers’ rights.”

The Labour leader added: “I also raised the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal.”

He also emailed all Labour MPs. The full text is below.

Dear colleague,

I held a meeting this afternoon with the Prime Minister, government ministers and officials.

I was accompanied by Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Nick Brown, and staff.

The government said they were keen to to find common ground and reach an agreement with us.

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, but no commitments have been made.

We raised the benefits of a customs union and close alignment to the single market with dynamic alignment on rights, protections and standards.

It was agreed there would further technical discussions on a customs union and close single market alignment. The civil service will be made available to us to support those discussions.

It was agreed that the Chief Whips would meet to consider a timetable for a Withdrawal Agreement – with no commitment to support it.

There was also discussion on what sort of legislative lock could be used to enforce any agreed changes.

I also raised the prospect of a confirmatory vote. The Prime Minister remained resistant to this proposal.

We will meet further in the coming days, and I will continue to update the PLP.

Jeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Opposition

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