Cross-party talks aimed at breaking the Brexit deadlock are close to collapse, Jeremy Corbyn has suggested.
The Labour leader said his negotiating team, led by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, had pressed “very robustly” for a customs union, but backbench Conservatives demanding low tax and deregulation were blocking progress.
Speaking during a visit to the north west of England on Tuesday, Corbyn said: “The government doesn’t appear to be shifting the red lines because they’ve got a big pressure in the Tory party that actually wants to turn this country into a deregulated low-tax society which will do a deal with Trump. I don’t want to do that.”
Talks between Labour and the government, triggered when MPs rejected May’s withdrawal agreement three times, are now in their third week.
Corbyn, who is under pressure from his own MPs to secure a second referendum, said the UK had already wasted “lost a lot of time by the dithering of the government on bringing issues to parliament” and stressed the need for compromise.
“There has to be access to European markets and above all there has to be a dynamic relationship to protect the conditions and rights that we’ve got for environment and consumer workplace rights,” Corbyn said.
“We’ve put those cases very robustly to the government and there’s no agreement as yet.”
With the impasse continuing, all parties have begun preparing for elections to the European Parliament on May 23.
Labour’s ruling body, the national executive committee, is interviewing potential MEPs this week.
Corbyn said Labour would “fight the elections as a party that is committed to that relationship with Europe, but above all it’s about uniting people, however they voted in 2016, they’re suffering from austerity.”
He was also withering about Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, which was launched last week.
“We have a major trading partnership with Europe and all Farage is offering is some kind of never-never-land, saying we’ll walk away from everything,” he said.
“Well, he should say that to those people whose jobs would be at risk in manufacturing industries and food processing industries. He should say that to those people who are really going to suffer as a result of this.
“We’re serious about having a trading relationship with Europe. We’re serious about our relationship with the rest of the world. I’m not sure he is.”
May is on a tight timescale to push through Brexit plans in order to swerve the need for the UK to take part in the European elections.
She is aiming to strike a deal with the opposition, win a meaningful Commons vote on the subsequent Brexit deal, and pass the necessary legislation to ratify the withdrawal agreement by the May 22.
With MPs on Commons recess for Easter, she will have less than four weeks of parliamentary time from next Tuesday to get it all done.
When talks get underway again, they will be broken into the following working groups:
Business Secretary Greg Clark and his Labour shadow Rebecca Long-Bailey on services, consumer and workers rights.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove and his shadow Sue Hayman on environmental protections.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and his shadow Sir Keir Starmer on security.