Theresa May last night appeared to open the door to a soft-Brexit agreement with Labour if her deal is blocked by Parliament.
She told Jeremy Corbyn his demand for Britain to stay in the EU’s customs union would hamper free trade deals – but stopped short of ruling it out.
And Mrs May said the Tories were ‘prepared to commit’ to new laws to protect workers’ rights after Brexit – a key demand of Labour and the unions.
However, Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss yesterday refused three times to say whether she would remain in the Cabinet if a customs union became official policy.
Theresa May told Jeremy Corbyn his demand for Britain to stay in the EU’s customs union would hamper free trade deals – but stopped short of ruling it out
In her letter to Corbyn, May also confirmed that ministers are ‘examining opportunities’ to pour millions into deprived Brexit-voting Labour constituencies
Asked whether she would resign, she told Sky News: ‘I absolutely do not think that should be our policy.’
Fellow Cabinet ministers Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt are also said to be implacably opposed to any shift towards a customs union.
Mrs May, in a letter to Mr Corbyn, also confirmed that ministers are ‘examining opportunities’ to pour millions into deprived Brexit-voting Labour constituencies. The move is seen as vital in winning the votes of Labour MPs for her deal.
The Prime Minister also proposed further talks with the Labour leader and his team in the coming days to discuss issues around the customs union, the single market and ‘alternative arrangements’ to the Irish backstop.
Her letter came hours after she was warned she could face a Cabinet walkout if she changes tack to pursue a customs union.
The move came as:
Cabinet minister James Brokenshire said a ‘meaningful vote’ on Mrs May’s revised deal could be delayed until next month.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay prepared to fly to Strasbourg today to reopen talks with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, for the first time since Mrs May’s Commons defeat last month.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson claimed one of his colleagues ‘changed their vote’ in a key Commons ballot on Brexit because they ‘felt frightened for their own safety’ following intimidation by campaigners.
Britain could be ‘blackmailed’ into offering Brussels further concessions if it tries to delay Brexit, a report by the Eurosceptic group Lawyers for Britain predicted.
However Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss yesterday refused to answer whether she would resign in the Cabinet if a customs union became official policy
Mrs May, who left church yesterday after playing fetch with a worshipper’s dog, risks angering Eurosceptic MPs by flirting with Labour.
But it might persuade some to back her deal for fear of being left with an even softer Brexit.
Downing Street last night insisted the PM remained committed to securing an ‘independent trade policy’ after Brexit, which would be incompatible with a customs union.
A source said: ‘We are very clear that in order to have trade deals, which are a central part of the Brexit deal, you cannot be a member of a customs union.’
The PM’s letter is a direct response to Mr Corbyn’s call last week for the Government to adopt a ‘permanent and comprehensive’ customs union, ‘close alignment’ with the single market, and the automatic acceptance of all EU laws on workers’ rights in future.
In her reply, Mrs May welcomes Mr Corbyn’s willingness to ‘find a deal… not to seek an election or second referendum’.
May’s letter to the Labour leader came hours after she was warned she could face a Cabinet walkout if she changes tack to pursue a customs union
The PM warns that his customs plan would give few economic benefits over her own deal while leaving the UK with far less freedom to strike trade deals.
Mrs May says the EU has insisted that ‘completely frictionless’ trade is only possible if the UK signs up to the single market, adding: ‘This would mean accepting free movement, which Labour’s 2017 manifesto made clear you do not support.’
But she does not rule out further compromise if her own deal is defeated.
Mr Brokenshire yesterday told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that MPs would be given another chance to vote on how to take Brexit forward on February 27, regardless of whether or not a deal has been struck with Brussels.
The Prime Minister with her husband Philip after a church service near her Maidenhead constituency today
The move is designed to persuade wavering Tory Remainers not to join a cross-party rebellion designed to delay Brexit to prevent a possible No Deal exit.
But Mr Brokenshire refused to say whether a ‘meaningful vote’ on the revised deal would be held this month.
One Cabinet source predicted MPs would not get another vote on the final deal until deep into next month – potentially just days before the UK is due to leave on March 29. ‘She is taking it to the wire,’ the source said.
Mr Barclay will update Mr Barnier today on the UK’s proposals for tackling the controversial Irish backstop, including setting a legal time limit, giving the UK a unilateral exit clause or agreeing ‘alternative arrangements’.
CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn yesterday hit out at the prospect of further delay, saying: ‘I think we really are in the emergency zone of Brexit now… this is danger time.’
And Tory Remainer Sarah Wollaston called on like-minded ministers to quit the Government this week ‘if they are serious about preventing No Deal’.
In a report for Lawyers for Britain, Martin Howe, QC, said the UK could face a string of demands from EU leaders if it seeks to extend Article 50.
He wrote: ‘It is likely that onerous conditions will be imposed, whether by the EU collectively or by individual member states – each of whom has a veto.’
No Deal could cost Germany 10,000 jobs, experts predict
A No Deal Brexit would cost 100,000 jobs in Germany, experts predict.
The academic study says British imports from the EU could plunge by 25 per cent if the UK leaves without a deal next month.
Concern about the impact of a No Deal Brexit has put mounting pressure on Angela Merkel to help broker concessions that will enable Theresa May to get the agreement through Parliament.
Last week, the German chancellor urged EU leaders to ‘be creative’, saying ‘everybody is willing’ to help find a solution.
The study, cited by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, suggests that Germany would be among the foreign countries hit hardest by a No Deal Brexit.
It estimates that more than 100,000 jobs would be put at risk ‘either directly or indirectly’.
This includes 15,000 jobs in the German car industry alone.
‘In no other state is the effect on total employment as great as Germany, which affects around 100,000 people,’ said study co-author Oliver Holtemöller, of the Halle Institute for Economic Research.
‘The employment effects of a hard Brexit would be noticeable above all at the automobile locations.’
France is the next country in line to feel the heaviest effects of a No Deal Brexit, with 50,000 jobs on the line, according to the study.
Ireland and Malta would also be hit hard.
Overall, the study estimates that more than 600,000 people worldwide could feel the effects of a No Deal exit.
Meanwhile, a think-tank said household incomes in Britain have taken a £1,500 hit since the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Higher than expected inflation also contributed to the fall in the average disposable income of families in the UK, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation.
It was ‘hard not to conclude that Brexit must be the single biggest factor’.
Thousands of foreign criminals ‘may flee’
Thousands of foreign criminals could abscond if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it is claimed.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Martin, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Brexit, said foreign offenders on UK streets could flee as officers would have to wait for a court hearing to get permission to make an arrest.
It would then take 66 days to get criminal records from the EU, instead of an average of six days at present.
Currently, officers can find out within minutes if people are wanted in Britain or Europe.
Police made 539million checks to see if a suspect had a criminal record in 2017. About 17 per cent of arrested suspects are foreign.
Mr Martin said police would be powerless to compel EU forces to look for British fugitives abroad.
It is estimated the loss of EU crime information systems will cost police £20million a year.