UK finance minister says government open to Brexit compromise with opposition
British finance minister Philip Hammond said on Saturday the government had “no red lines” in talks with the main opposition party to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit.
“Our approach to these discussions with Labour is that we have no red lines,” he told reporters at a meeting of European finance ministers in Bucharest.
“We are expecting to exchange more texts with the Labour Party today, so this is an ongoing process and I expect we will reach some form of agreement,” Hammond added.
Senior ministers are negotiating with Labour leaders in a bid to find a compromise to end months of political crisis and allow Britain to leave the European Union smoothly after 46 years of membership.
But after three days of discussions, Labour said Friday it was “disappointed” by the failure to offer “real change or compromise” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit divorce deal.
MPs have rejected her agreement finalised with European leaders last November three times, delaying Britain’s original March 29 exit date and throwing the process into chaos.
Ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday, May was forced to ask for another extension, until June 30, to prevent the country crashing out the bloc next Friday.
However with European leaders growing increasingly impatient at the paralysis in Westminster, they could offer just a shorter postponement — or a longer period of up to a year.
The other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension.
Hammond, who backed Remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum and is seen as favouring as soft a Brexit as possible, urged his divided Conservative colleagues to show flexibility.
“We should be open to listen to suggestions that others have made and some people in the Labour Party are making other suggestions,” he said.
Labour is pushing May to accept a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the EU that includes participation in a customs union.
The prime ministers has previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.
But after Brexit hardliners in her own party repeatedly refused to back her plan over fears it would keep the country too closely aligned with Europe, she last week turned to Labour — infuriating many Conservatives.
Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott said her party was engaged in the talks “in good faith”, but May’s team appear unwilling to compromise.
“There is concern that the government doesn’t want to alter the political declaration,” she told the BBC, referring to the part of May’s deal outlining the future relationship with the EU.
“The government perhaps has to show a little more flexibility than it seems to have done so far.”