Theresa May ditches ‘no-deal is better than a bad deal’ as she hints at customs agreement with Labour

Posted On: 
1st May 2019

Theresa May has ditched her claim that “no-deal is better than a bad deal” as she dropped a strong hint that a soft Brexit agreement with Labour could be in the offing.

Theresa May appearing before the Liaison Committee.
PA Images

The Prime Minister said she had been “talking in the abstract” when she made the infamous claim in a speech at Lancaster House in January 2017.

Mrs May used the major speech to lay out her negotiating stance and red lines ahead of triggering the two-year Article 50 process to leave the bloc that March.

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She said: "While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain."

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted that the Prime Minister stands by that claim in the two years since she made it.

But facing MPs at the Liaison Committee, the PM distanced herself from the phrase since a deal had now been agreed between the Government and Brussels.

"I stand by references I’ve made in the past that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ but I actually happen to think that we have a good deal," she said.

"When I first made that reference I was talking in the abstract, it was in Lancaster House. We now are no longer talking in the abstract, we’re talking against the background of a negotiated deal, hard fought which I believe is a good deal for the United Kingdom.

"That’s why it remains the Government’s position that we will continue to work to leave with a deal."


Mrs May also dropped a clear hint that she is prepared to row back on her opposition to a post-Brexit customs union in order to secure Labour backing for her deal.

The Government and opposition have been in talks for a month, and optimism has grown in recent days that an agreement is possible.

Labour has demanded a permanent customs union with the EU, something the Prime Minister has consistently ruled out, arguing that the UK must have an independent trade policy.

But pressed on the matter, she said it "depends what your definition of a customs union is”, adding that there was “a greater commonality in terms of some of the benefits of the customs union” in the talks.

Earlier, a spokesman for the Prime Minister had also suggested that a deal was possible over customs arrangements.

"We are in a negotiation,” the spokesman said. “If these talks are going to lead to an agreed outcome, then both sides will need to show movement."