Theresa May was urged to form a Brexit coalition with Labour today in order to drown out the ‘no deal’ voices in her Cabinet.
Tory veteran Ken Clarke – a stalwart of Margaret Thatcher’s government – called for cross-party working in order the get the Brexit negotiations back on track.
The pro-EU MP – who stood for the Tory leadership three times – challenged the Prime Minister to appoint a “trusted minister” to liaise with opposition to help present a stronger negotiating position to Brussels.
Backbench Tories such as Owen Paterson and John Redwood are growing increasingly bullish about leaving the EU without a trade deal, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has set out ‘red lines’ on any package which are stronger than the Prime Minister’s stated position.
Clarke’s question came moments after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn mocked May for her ‘Groundhog Day’ statement on the Brexit talks, saying MPs are no nearer knowing when trade talks will begin.
The three-time leadership candidate suggested one of the reasons for the sluggish progress was due to the splits at the very top of his own party.
He said: “Other EU leaders can see that a noisy minority in the Cabinet and on the backbenches of her own party have persuaded themselves that no deal at all is completely desirable.
“This causes them to doubt if she is able to produce a clear picture of where she eventually wants to go and whether she’s able to produce a majority here for any agreement they have with her.
“Has she considered, she may have done already, appointing some trusted minister to make approaches to leading members of the opposition parties to see if they will live up to some of the things that the leader appears to say and perhaps do better, so at least we can have consensus in this parliament in the national interest on the outline of a transitional deal at least, that would enable us then to negotiate the final details of an arrangement that majority of this House could agree?”
May quipped that Clarke’s question “sounded rather like a job application”, before claiming her Florence speech did bring “clarity” to the UK’s Brexit position.
In her statement to Parliament, May told MPs that the EU27’s agreement last week to prepare for trade talks would not have happened without the “new momentum” given by her address in the historic Italian city in September.
Corbyn mocked her claim of progress, reminding her she used the same language when she appeared before MPs on October 9.
The Labour leader said: “I’m now beginning to get a very worrying sense of Groundhog Day here every time she gives us an update on the progress on negotiations.
“Only two weeks ago she told this House that her speech in Florence had put momentum into the Article 50 negotiations and that an agreement on phase one of these talks was within touching distance.
“Well, here we are again after another round of talks and we are still no clearer as to when negotiations on Britain’s future with our largest trading partner will actually begin and no clearer as to what she’s agreed to in phase one of these talks.”
May said while no final Brexit had been reached “it was going to happen.”
She said: “I’d have a degree of confidence that we’ll be able to get to the point of sufficient progress by December.”
The Prime Minister claimed the leaders of Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Italy. Poland and Denmark all recognised the “new momentum” caused by the Florence speech.