Theresa May hits out at Jeremy Corbyn as he tells Labour MPs not to take part in Brexit talks

Posted On: 
17th January 2019

Theresa May has condemned Jeremy Corbyn after he urged Labour MPs not to hold talks on Brexit with the Government.

Jeremy Corbyn is refusing to talk to Theresa May on Brexit.
PA Images

The Labour leader emailed his party colleagues after he said he would not accept Theresa May's offer of a meeting unless she ruled out any prospect of the UK quitting the EU without a deal.

But within minutes, senior Labour backbenchers Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper defied their boss to hold talks with Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, the de facto deputy Prime Minister.

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In his email, Mr Corbyn said: "The Prime Minister has offered to open talks with opposition parties, however I have been absolutely clear that any starting point for talks about breaking the Brexit deadlock must be on the provision that the threat of a disastrous 'no deal' outcome is ruled out. This is a position that has now been adopted by the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

"I urge colleagues to respect that condition and refrain from engagement with the Government until 'no deal' is taken off the table."

But in a letter to Mr Corbyn urging him to reconsider, Mrs May said he was wrong to effectively ban his MPs from engaging in talks with the Government.

She said: "You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the Government?

"My door remains open to a meeting without preconditions so that we, as Prime Minister and leader of the opposition, can talk and see if we can begin to find a way forward for our country on Brexit. I sincerely urge you to accept."

Speaking after their meeting with Mr Lidington, Brexit Committee chair Mr Benn and Home Affairs Committee boss Ms Cooper backed Mr Corbyn's call for the Prime Minister to rule out no-deal.

Mr Benn said: "We made it very clear that the Government has to rule out no deal. That is the first step that they have to take and sadly the Prime Minister needs to change her red lines."

But in her letter to Mr Corbyn, Mrs May said it was "impossible" to rule out no deal.

She said that it could only happen if Parliament backed a deal, or if the Article 50 process was extended.

"I do not believe that the EU would agree to extend our membership simply to allow further debate on Brexit in the UK," she said. "As politicians we have a responsibility not to simply say what we want, but also to explain how we achieve it. I recognise that you would want to put forward your own proposals and I would be happy to discuss them with you."

But in a speech on Thursday morning, Mr Corbyn dismissed the Prime Minister's offer of talks as "a stunt".

He said: "No sooner had she said the words in parliament than the Government confirmed that she would not take no deal off the table.

“So I say to the Prime Minister again: I am quite happy to talk. But the starting point for any talks about Brexit must be that the threat of a disastrous no deal outcome is ruled out."