John McDonnell has said Jeremy Hunt’s warning that Tory MPs would not accept a customs union as part of any Brexit deal has damaged talks between Labour and the government.
The foreign secretary, a potential Tory leadership candidate, said on Tuesday morning that if Theresa May agreed to a customs union “there is a risk that you would lose more Conservative MPs than you would gain Labour MP”.
Hunt told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he “very much” hoped May did not agree to the key Labour demand.
Labour is concerned that any agreement reached with May could be unpicked by her successor.
Responding to Hunt, McDonnell tweeted this afternoon. “This is hardly a helpful or constructive intervention whilst we are in the middle of cross party talks to protect our economy & does not inspire confidence that if a deal is agreed it would be successfully entrenched and last any longer than the next Tory leadership election.”
HuffPost UK understands May is hoping to conclude Brexit talks with Labour by the middle of next week in a bid to break the impasse delaying the UK’s exit from the EU.
Downing Street today described the negotiations as “serious and constructive”.
Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure today to commit Labour to a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal when his party’s governing body meet later to agree its European election manifesto.
The ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is to gather on Tuesday for a crunch meeting to finalise the party’s position on Brexit for next month’s polls.
The NEC finely balanced between those who want a referendum on “any Brexit deal” and on “a Tory Brexit deal”.
Hunt told the BBC he believed a deal “definitely” be done and insisted there was still a “great sense of urgency” in the talks.
“The reality of Brexit is that it is the most controversial issue, certainly in my political lifetime, but we have a hung parliament so we cannot get it through without talking to other parties,” he said.
“If we were proposing, which I very much hope we don’t, to sign up to the customs union, then I think there is a risk that you would lose more Conservative MPs than you would gain Labour MPs.
“If, on the other hand, it was something different, then the result could be different as well.”
Amid pressure on May to quit as sooner rather than later, the foreign secretary, who is expected to run to succeed her as PM, said “just changing the leader doesn’t actually change the parliamentary arithmetic”.