POLITICS
19/03/2019 18:57 GMT | Updated 20/03/2019 08:14 GMT

May Urged By Ministers To Work With Labour MPs To Secure Soft Brexit

PM under pressure to rescue her plan by pledging vote for parliament on future trade deal.

Theresa May is being urged to salvage her Brexit deal by bowing to Labour MPs’ demands to give parliament a final say on any future UK-EU trade deal, HuffPost UK has learned.

With a hardcore of Tory Brexiteers MPs still refusing to support the prime minister’s divorce plans, Cabinet ministers are pressing her to change tack and build a ‘stable’ majority by pledging a Commons vote on the next phase of Britain’s links to Brussels.

May urgently needs to find enough votes to get her deal through parliament, after Speaker Bercow’s ruling on Monday gave her effectively one last chance to put it before MPs.

Although the DUP is expected to switch its stance and finally back the PM next week, around 25 eurosceptic Tories are unlikely to change their mind and No.10 needs a similar number of Labour backbenchers on board instead.

But several Labour MPs are demanding that May gives them and others a real say on the future UK-EU trade deal - and so far she has refused.

Downing Street has confirmed that a debate will be held from next Monday in which MPs would be allowed to explore alternatives to the PM’s deal.

One Cabinet minister said that the prime minister had to realise that she could only get a workable set of proposals through with Labour support.

“This phrase of ‘just getting it over the line’ I bridle at. It won’t allow us to move on,” they said.

“We need to be targeting a substantial majority and to do that we need to reach across the House for consensus. You have to have a significant number of the Opposition with you.”

A minister added: “For most of the last two years, there was an aim to pass the legislation with Conservative votes rather than Labour votes.

“But when it came to it last week, the provision to extend Article 50 did rely on Opposition votes. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall in.”

One source suggested that the DUP were proving a sticking point in unlocking the Labour votes, amid claims that the Northern Irish party didn’t want to dilute its own influence by allowing the whole of the Commons a say over the future trade deal. “They are threatening to pull the plug,” the source said.

The DUP have been effectively offered ‘a seat at the table’ of the talks, as well as a ‘Stormont lock’ which could give the province a greater say over future EU links.

But Labour backbencher Lisa Nandy declared there was “no way” she and a raft of other MPs in Leave areas would back May’s proposals unless they were also given guarantees that they could shape the trade deal.

The European Parliament has its own key ‘lock’ on future trade deals, as well as on Brexit talks, and Labour has mooted the idea of a UK equivalent of Guy Verhofstadt, who acts for Strasbourg on the issue.

Nandy said that she had pleaded with the PM to make a decisive move by promising that parliament would get not just a “role” but also a vote on the future UK-EU links.

“I’ve talked to her about it two or three times and the civil service have drawn up some papers around it that set out a role for parliament in determining the parameters of the negotiating mandate and potentially a vote,” the Wigan MP said.

“The bit she seems to be up for exploring is in setting out the parameters, where it’s not moved at all is around a parliamentary vote.”

Nandy was rung personally by May earlier this year, and it is understood that the Chief Whip Julian Smith has recently tried to approach Labour MPs afresh in recent days.

However, the former shadow energy secretary said her demand for a vote on the future trade deal - with the possibility of getting closer trade links with the EU - couldn’t have been clearer. 

“She is the Prime minister, she’s ringing me up asking me for my vote, I take it seriously. But if she doesn’t move, she’s wasting her time as well as mine, I’ve been really clear what I need. There’s absolutely no way I would vote for this agreement on the basis of some warm words from a Tory prime minister.

“If we get this wrong then the jobs, particularly the food manufacturing jobs in the smaller companies [in my constituency], would just disappear.

“From my point of view this is the only thing that will get me to budge. And I think lots of other people would feel the same. The withdrawal agreement is not the issue, it’s what happens next. And I think lots of other people would feel the same.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has long urged the government to reach out to the Opposition to find a compromise on Brexit.

“Just imagine if May had put her Lancaster House speech [in early 2017] to the Commons to debate and vote on, we could be a lot further forward today,” one party source said.

The EU has long demanded that May comes up with a plan that can command a ‘stable’ majority in Parliament and experts have warned that with the Withdrawal Agreement Bill could be sabotaged by rearguard guerilla warfare from MPs unless she secures cross-party support.

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