In Brief

Brexit breakthrough? Optimism at cross-party talks

Labour and Conservative negotiators hint discussions may be moving towards compromise

Cross-party Brexit talks are moving towards a possible compromise, according to reports, with both Labour and Conservative sources talking of a more positive tone in negotiations.

No fresh government offer has been tabled, says The Guardian, but several participants described “a new optimism about a change in tone” and “a feeling that there were grounds to continue discussions, a marked contrast to last week’s talks”.

David Lidington, Theresa May’s de-facto deputy, who led talks for the government yesterday, said participants had felt the “need to inject greater urgency”.

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, and the chief whip, Julian Smith were among those present. Those on the Labour side included were the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary.

Labour’s Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, hailed “a really constructive discussion” which had been “getting much more into the nuts and bolts of the detail”. She said she now believed the government was “open to moving forward in our direction”.

However, the foreign secretary sounded less upbeat. Jeremy Hunt told The Daily Telegraph that a Brexit deal with Labour could be even less popular among Conservative MPs than the one they have already rejected on several occasions.

The result could be that “you lose more Conservative MPs than you gain Labour MPs”, he said, adding that he doubted whether Jeremy Corbyn was “serious about delivering Brexit”.

The talkss are set to continue this week and will address key areas of disagreement which have previously been avoided, including Corbyn’s desire for a customs union and dynamic alignment of workers’ rights and environmental protections.

May’s official spokesman insisted yesterday that the PM still believed it was possible to avoid holding the European elections on May 23 because the House of Commons could ratify her EU withdrawal deal in time. He said cross-party talks would continue as long as there was “still a prospect of reaching a single position to put to parliament”. 

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