Published:  02:26 AM, 12 February 2019

May offers Corbyn more Brexit talks

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn look set to hold further talks over Brexit. The prime minister struck a conciliatory tone in her response to a letter from Mr Corbyn, which set out his five demands for a Brexit deal.She said she wanted the two parties to discuss "alternative arrangements" to the Irish backstop - a commitment to avoid a hard border. But there remains a divide over the customs union, even though she did not reject any of his conditions outright.

No date has been set for the next meeting, but the letter concludes with May saying she looked forward to the two parties meeting "as soon as possible". Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier will hold talks in Strasbourg later, as the EU and UK Brexit negotiating teams discuss proposed changes to the deal.

Writing her response to his letter of last Wednesday, Mrs May told the Labour leader: "It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honors our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU - not to seek an election or second referendum."

This is despite Corbyn repeatedly saying there should be a general election if May cannot get a deal through Parliament. He has also faced pressure from some of his MPs to push for another public vote on Brexit.Labour MP David Lammy - who supports the "People's Vote" campaign for a new referendum - said May's letter "makes it clear there is no hope of her agreeing" with Corbyn's demands and said his party should campaign now for a fresh vote.

The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrat's spokesman, Tom Brake, said it was "astonishing" the two leaders were starting "serious discussions about delivering disastrous Brexit together" 900 days after the vote to leave the EU.He added: "It is time for Jeremy Corbyn to give up the letters and instead draw his attention to Labour Party policy and get behind the campaign for a People's Vote."It could have been a very different sort of letter.

May could have just underscored her red lines: No to extending Article 50. No to another referendum. No to a customs union.Instead, it's a much more conciliatory and consensual letter.There's praise for Corbyn in accepting the priority now should be on reaching a Brexit deal, rather than pressing for a general election.Praise too for his acknowledgement that the backstop has got to be changed.And there's some movement on employment rights and the promise of more cash for hard pressed communities.

Even on the customs union - their key dividing area - May's language is more nuanced, even though privately her aides insist there can be no question of accepting a permanent customs union.It's unlikely to be anywhere near enough to win over Corbyn.But it may be enough for those Labour MPs in leave supporting constituencies, who are looking for political cover to back or abstain on May's deal.


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