May concludes Brexit talks but risks Commons defeat as Labour shifts

While UK Prime minister and 11 senior ministers conclude talks on UK's approach to Brexit,  Jeremy Corbyn may back rebel Tory amendment, putting May's plan at risk 

Theresa May and 11 other senior ministers have concluded talks regarding the UK’s approach to Brexit in an eight-hour discussion at the PM’s country retreat.

After a discussion by the full cabinet, the PM will set out the position in a speech next week. BBC reported that everyone left Chequers happy, implying "baby steps forwards not a huge breakthrough".

The Brexit sub-committee included key figures such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond, who were on opposite sides of the EU referendum argument in 2016.

Chief Whip Julian Smith and senior UK diplomats Tim Barrow and Ed Llewellyn were among those present, alongside the cabinet's Brexit sub-committee.

Although it has been reported that May has persuaded Brexiteers to shift their position, there have been clear difference between ministers over the way forward.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Sources say that she now faces the precept of Labour destroying the carefully planned out process, as Jeremy Corbyn could use a key Brexit speech on Monday to pave the way for Labour to inflict a Commons defeat on the government, by backing a rebel Tory amendment seeking to keep Britain in “a customs union”.

Corbyn is expected to signal that Labour is prepared to back the UK staying in a customs union with the EU.

The party has said for some months that customs union membership is a “viable” outcome but a series of interventions from shadow cabinet members in recent days, including Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell on Thursday, have suggested Labour is edging towards making it the preferred result.

Corbyn made his own position clear, speaking to journalists at a manufacturing conference earlier this week, saying he was in favour of a customs union – in part to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.

“We have to have access to European markets, we have to have a customs union that makes sure we can continue that trade, particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” he said. “That is key to it.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry also said that while Brexit meant the UK could not be in the customs union, a new agreement was needed: "That we think is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union."

It could mean the PM faces the prospect of a Commons rebellion as Conservative MP Anna Soubry said she had cross-party support for an amendment to the trade bill, calling for the government to form "a" customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Documents and transition period

Documents suggest European Commission negotiators will not approve of a UK proposal that seeks to select which EU rules to stick to post-Brexit and which to diverge from.

Slides published online by the commission say such an approach would be "not compatible with the principles" set out in the EU's own guidelines and posed a risk to the "proper functioning" of its single market.

But an EU diplomat said "we are hoping for a relationship that is as close as possible to the existing relationship", adding that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier should be given a mandate "to explore all possibilities".

Before the final arrangements with the EU kick in, a temporary transition period is planned - although the details have yet to be negotiated.

On Wednesday, the UK set out its plans for how this "status quo" transition phase should work.

The document suggests the UK will abide by new EU laws and be involved in talks on future fishing quotas, but will not be able to sign trade deals without the EU's permission.

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