THERESA MAY and Jeremy Corbyn are experimenting with hazardous materials.
They are seeing if they can create a Tory/Labour Brexit compound without blowing up their own parties.
Those in the talks are more optimistic than ever about getting some kind of agreement, if not a finalised deal.
But they know that things are very volatile.
One senior figure tells me things are “much better than people think, but could blow up at any time”.
What is causing this Downing Street optimism is a sense that there is beginning to be pressure on Labour to do a deal.
Look at the council seats they lost in Leave-voting areas and the progress Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is making in Labour regions ahead of this month’s European elections.
I understand that the compromise being drawn up goes as follows.
The UK would initially enter into a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the European Union.
This would be very similar to a customs union.
But the two parties would then commit, and hope to persuade the EU to do the same, to there being two choices for the future — either an independent trade policy under a scheme similar to the facilitated customs arrangement that May proposed at Chequers or a customs union with a UK say over future trade deals, which is Labour’s policy.
A LEAP INTO THE UNKNOWN
The irony of this is that the EU has not said that it will accept either of these options.
Getting Brussels to include them in the political declaration will not be easy.
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, has told Tory MPs that about half the stuff that Labour has asked for in the talks — on subjects such as co-operation with EU agencies and crime — are things the Government has already tried to get from the EU.
There would also be a separate bill that would put the UK on course to remain in “dynamic alignment” with the EU on workers’ rights. I am told that the bill will be “more dramatic” than Tory MPs would like.
The big risk May is running in trying to cut this deal is how her own party will react to an arrangement with Labour.
One senior Cabinet minister has told colleagues that he fears co-operating with Corbyn legitimises the Labour leader and that he would rather resign than back a deal.
Those close to this secretary of state argue that in these circumstances, it would be better for the Tories to argue for a new deal with the new EU Commission, which will take office in November.
But others in Cabinet think that without a General Election — which the Tories are in no position to fight — there is no way to deliver Brexit without a deal with Labour.
One calculates that while many Tory MPs would not vote for it, they would not cause a permanent split in the party over it.
On the Labour side there are, perhaps, even more substantial obstacles to a deal.
A huge number of Labour MPs, including pretty much the whole whips office, want a second referendum.
If Britain’s MEPs are not to take their seats in the new EU parliament, the Withdrawal Agreement bill will have to be introduced to the Commons in the next two weeks.
This is, I understand, Downing Street’s deadline for these cross-party talks to reach a conclusion.
A Labour/Tory agreement would require both May and Corbyn to be prepared to risk splitting their parties.
This may seem unlikely BUT this week’s elections show that both parties are paying a price for failing to get Brexit done.
Source: Read Full Article