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Downing Street: Brexit talks to continue despite doubts on all sides

British Prime Minister Theresa May's government on Tuesday said she plans to continue talks with the opposition Labour party on a possible deal for a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union, despite strong opposition from many Conservatives.

London, 14 May 2019 (dpa/MIA) – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Tuesday said she plans to continue talks with the opposition Labour party on a possible deal for a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union, despite strong opposition from many Conservatives.

After May chaired a three-hour cabinet meeting to discuss progress on resolving the political impasse over Brexit, Downing Street said ministers “agreed to continue discussions with Labour to see what was possible.”

It said the cabinet discussed possible compromises by the government to secure the Labour leadership’s backing for a deal.

The ministers agreed that it was vital to steer the government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill though parliament before a summer recess, which is expected to start in late July, Downing Street added.

But Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he had seen no “significant shift” by the government during the talks.

“We’re not near what we want,” McDonnell, a close ally of Labour’s left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, told a Wall Street Journal conference in London.

Fourteen influential eurosceptic Conservative lawmakers warned May earlier Tuesday not to agree a deal with Labour.

“A customs union with the EU is both bad policy and bad politics,” the group wrote in an open letter to May published by The Times.

Led by Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative lawmakers, they warned that a deal with Labour would “split the party.”

The BBC reported that May’s aide Olly Robbins planned to travel to Brussels on Tuesday to discuss possible changes to a non-binding political declaration on future relations between Britain and the EU.

The political declaration accompanies a withdrawal agreement, or divorce deal, which Brussels insists cannot be amended.

McDonnell said Labour had “compromised in some areas” but sees the customs union as crucial to any agreement.

He criticized the Brexiteers’ letter, saying it gave Labour “no security” that a future Conservative leader would honour any agreement with May, who has promised to step down if she can secure parliamentary approval for a deal.

“Our big problem now is, if we’re going to march our troops in parliament to the top of the hill to vote for a deal, and then that’s overturned, literally, in weeks, I think that would be a cataclysmic act of bad faith,” McDonnell said.

The Brexiteers warned May that a deal with Labour would lose “the loyal middle of the Conservative Party, split [the] party and with likely nothing positive to show for it.”

“No leader can [bind] his or her successor, so the deal would likely be at best temporary, at worst illusory,” they said.

The signatories included former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab, all of whom resigned to oppose May’s Brexit plans.

Johnson and Raab are among the frontrunners to succeed May.

“I signed this letter because the customs union option robs us of the opportunities of Brexit, and breaches the cardinal promise made in our 2017 election manifesto,” Raab tweeted later Tuesday, adding that he will “vote against [a customs union deal] every time.”

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