May seeks a compromise on Brexit

Theresa May © Getty images
May: crossing the Rubicon away from no-deal

The PM turns her back on the eurosceptics and reaches out to Jeremy Corbyn. Emily Hohler reports.

Theresa May made “an about-face” in her Brexit strategy on Tuesday by offering to work with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, an approach that could lead to a closer relationship with the EU, say Max Colchester and Jason Douglas in The Wall Street Journal.

Following a “marathon” seven-hour cabinet meeting, May outlined plans to request a further extension to Article 50, ideally not beyond 22 May to avoid the UK having to take part in European elections. The plan is high-risk for May, who has spent months trying to appease Tory eurosceptics: it threatens to alienate them further and successful talks with Labour are “far from guaranteed”.

Kicking the can into Corbyn’s face

May has said that her deal will still form the basis of any new proposal, but that the political declaration on the future relationship could be altered. She must request an extension from the EU by Monday, at which point the UK must begin preparations for holding European elections, say Samantha Herbert and Jack Maidment in The Daily Telegraph. If May and Corbyn fail to agree a way forward before the emergency EU summit on 10 April, May will give MPs another chance to vote on an alternative and has agreed to “abide by” the decision.

It’s hard to see how any of this can work, says Philip Johnston, also in The Daily Telegraph. Since Corbyn’s likely conditions – a customs union, single market membership and possibly a second referendum – are opposed by “scores” of Tories and will therefore destroy her party, there will inevitably be no agreement. As for the indicative votes, we’ve already had 12 of those, and “every one has fallen”. Now that May has kicked the can “firmly into” Corbyn’s face, there’s a possibility that the Labour party will “tear itself apart as well”, says John Crace in The Guardian.

Even if May does manage to achieve a majority for a softer Brexit and the Tory party doesn’t implode, her partners in government, Northern Ireland’s DUP, will “go ballistic” because it would mean approving May’s deal and therefore the Irish backstop, which they regard as “toxic”, says Robert Peston in The Spectator.

There are so many other obstacles – including persuading voters that it makes sense to start preparations for EU parliamentary elections in the hope of cancelling them at the last minute – that I “can find no MP outside of the payroll” who thinks May’s plan will work. But whether it does or not, “a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed”. May and her ministers “have signalled” that they are so opposed to a default, no-deal Brexit on 12 April that they “will begin a process that could blow up the Tory Party”. This “will have huge consequences – not least for how long she can remain prime minister”.

A general election is looking increasingly likely, says Philip Cowley in The Times. However much the public may not want one, the indicative votes have shown that it may provide a solution. Parliament came close to “agreeing a policy position on a number of occasions” – the customs union ballot fell by just three votes – but they are all options that “only a handful of MPs from the governing party can accept”.

Meanwhile, a majority of Labour MPs “happily backed a confirmatory referendum, a Common Market 2.0 option, and customs union”. This suggests that a Labour government “could fairly easily legislate” for a softer Brexit. As for the Conservatives, even if they somehow romped to victory in a 2019 general election, the party is so split that agreement on any form of Brexit stronger than the current deal is hard to imagine. An election might therefore not be “pointless”, as many are saying, but it is “difficult to see how it could be good” for the Tories.