Labour and Tories in Brexit stand-off

Brexit negotiations caught between a rock and a hard place as the Labour and Tory Parties take up entrenched positions. Credit: Shutterstock.

The Labour Party has demanded that Theresa May takes the prospect of no deal (on Brexit) off the table following the failed motion of no confidence in the government yesterday.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, called May’s invitation for talks a “stunt” and refused to enter into negotiations with the Conservatives unless the threat of no deal, currently a real prospect hanging over the nation, was removed.

In a move that will certainly find support amongst those involved in the transport and logistics industry, and cross-border operators in general, Corbyn has sought to define a safety-net for industry by ruling out its most feared outcome.

“With no-deal on the table, the Prime Minister will enter into phony talks just to run down the clock and try to blackmail Members of Parliament (MPs) to vote through her botched deal on a second attempt by threatening the country with the chaos that no-deal would bring,” said Corbyn in a speech in Hastings, a coastal town on the United Kingdom’s southern coast.

Corbyn’s stance was reiterated by the Scottish Nationalist leader in the British Parliament, Ian Blackford, who has also said that his party is opposed to no deal and that it wants to see a hard Brexit ruled out.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, said late last night that he had held talks with May, even though he had said to her not to call unless “no deal” had been ruled out.

“I told her not to pick up the phone unless she ruled out no deal, but someone picked up the phone anyway,” he told the BBC’s late-night news programme, Newsnight.

Logistics and transport representatives as well as industry spokespersons have said that a no deal withdrawal form the European Union would be very damaging. Some organisations have advised their members to prepare for a hard Brexit following the humiliating defeat (by 230 votes) of the Government’s flagship policy for the withdrawal from the EU on Tuesday. They  fear that the vote made a hard Brexit more likely.

Corbyn has sought to allay industry’s fears by using the leverage he has acquired from the Brexit vote to prevent a damaging hard Brexit. However, the defeat of May’s withdrawal deal on Tuesday was followed by a vote of no confidence in the Government on Wednesday, and May secured a 19-vote majority in that vote. It appears that the Conservatives, and their supporters in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party who voted against May the day before, closed ranks to prevent Corbyn’s Labour Party from getting the General election that they had hoped for.

In response to Corbyn, May wrote to the Labour Party leader telling him that removing no deal was impossible.

May said, “I note that you have said that ‘ruling out’ no deal is a precondition before we can meet, but that is an impossible condition because it is not within the Government’s power to rule out no deal.

“Let me explain why. Under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and the Withdrawal Act 2018, we will leave the EU without a deal on 29 March unless Parliament either agrees to a deal with the EU or the UK revokes Article 50 and chooses to stay in the EU permanently.

“So, there are two ways to avoid no deal: either vote for a deal, in particular a Withdrawal Agreement, that has been agreed [to] with the EU, or to revoke Article 50 and overturn the referendum result.”

In the latest YouGov poll released today, 56 percent of voters are said to want to remain in the European Union, an increase of 4 percent since the end of last year. And support for another referendum has also increased to over 56 percent, a 12-point lead over those who oppose another vote.

Divisions in the two major parties have surfaced, however. Some Labour MPs have defied Corbyn by meeting with May in spite of the Labour leader telling them not to enter into talks with Conservatives.

In the latest move one Conservative backbencher, Nick Boles, has put forward a cross-party bill that would rule out a no deal Brexit and, if passed, would force May to delay Article 50. Boles told the BBC that the bill has the support of some very senior members of Government who have said they would resign if they were whipped to oppose the bill.

May is due to deliver an alternative plan to the failed withdrawal deal on Monday, January 21, but commentators close to the government have said that May has not shifted her stance and that the alternative deal is unlikely to be very different from the plan that was roundly rejected by Parliament last Tuesday.

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Nick Savvides, Staff Writer

Nick came to FreightWaves in December 2018 from Fairplay, a shipping market publication. He covers the shipping, freight and logistics industry in Europe. Since starting his career as a journalist in 1990, Nick has worked for a number of significant freight publications abroad, including International Freighting Weekly, the online news service for Containerisation International, ICIS, the chemical industry reporting service, as well as Seatrade in Greece. Nick also worked as a freelance journalist writing for Lloyd’s List, The Observer, The Express and The European newspapers among others before joining Seatrade Newsweek in Athens.