Cabinet minister insists Theresa May could still get Labour to back Brexit deal after talks collapse

Posted On: 
19th May 2019

The Government is still in the "territory" of a Brexit deal with "sensible, moderate" Labour MPs despite the collapse of cross-party talks, Cabinet minister Rory Stewart has insisted.

The International Development secretary said Labour and the Tories were just "half an inch apart" on Brexit.

The International Development Secretary said the two sides were "about half an inch apart", just days after Jeremy Corbyn pulled the plug on talks with a blast at the "increasing weakness and instability" of Theresa May's government.

The embattled Prime Minister - who has promised to quit within weeks - on Sunday pledged to make a "bold new offer" to MPs to get behind her deal, although she stopped short of setting out any details of that plan.

Labour frontbencher tells Margaret Hodge to 'consider position' after backing pro-EU tactical voting

Labour's Ian Lavery blasts Shadow Cabinet colleagues for talking up 'confirmatory ballot' on Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn says freedom of movement would be 'open for negotiation' if Labour led Brexit talks

There is speculation that the move could include fresh protections for workers' rights or further movement on a customs union, Labour's central demand in the talks.

Mr Stewart told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that ministers should keep reaching out to Labour MPs who might be willing to back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it comes to a Commons vote in June.

"The Labour and Conservative positions are about half an inch apart,” he said.

And the frontbencher said he did not "believe there’s anything that Jeremy Corbyn or we want that’s that far apart".

He added: "We’re in the territory of a deal, and in the territory of a deal where we need to focus is parliament.

"And particularly getting Labour votes across. Now, maybe not Jeremy Corbyn’s vote, but there are many other moderate, sensible Labour MPs that we should get across."

The comments came after Mr Corbyn said Labour would look "very carefully" at any pledge by Theresa May to offer to protect workers' rights after Brexit.

But he warned that the party would not hand the Prime Minister a "blank cheque" for her proposals.

Mr Corbyn said: "If a bill comes up which entrenches workers' rights in law obviously we'd look at it very carefully."

But he warned: "All that's been offered so far is to say they would accept the rights as there are from the European Union at the present time and Parliament would have the opportunity to align itself with them in the future."

On the broader Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation needed to make Brexit happen which MPs will vote on in the first week of June - the Labour leader said he had yet to hear anything which "leads me to believe it is fundamentally any different from the previous bill that has been put forward so as of now we are not supporting it".