Published in BBC, on Feb 7th, 2019,
Theresa May is heading to Brussels to press EU leaders for legally binding changes to the Brexit deal.
The PM will insist the UK will not be “trapped” in the backstop – the plan to avoid the return of Irish border checks whatever UK-EU trade deal is agreed.
She will say the deal must change if it is to win the support of MPs who urged her to seek “alternative arrangements” when rejecting the deal last month.
However, the EU has repeatedly ruled out changing the withdrawal agreement.
And Mrs May’s visit is being overshadowed by the row over Wednesday’s outburst by Donald Tusk, who declared there was a “special place in hell” for those who campaigned for Brexit without a plan to deliver it safely.
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MPs who backed Leave in the 2016 referendum reacted with anger to the comments, accusing the European Council president of “arrogance”.
David Lidington, the minister seen as Mrs May’s second-in-command, said Mr Tusk’s comment “wasn’t the most brilliant diplomacy in the world”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think Mr Tusk was venting yesterday, but I don’t think that will detract from what I expect to be a courteous and sensible grown-up discussion between the different EU leaders and the prime minister.”
Labour’s fresh offer to May
Jeremy Corbyn has written to the prime minister setting out his party’s price for supporting a Brexit deal and to offer talks to secure “a sensible agreement that can win the support of Parliament and bring the country together”.
The Labour leader’s five demands include a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union” aligned with the EU’s customs rules but with an agreement “that includes a UK say on future EU trade deals”.
Mr Corbyn also wants close alignment with the EU single market and “dynamic alignment on rights and protections” for workers so that UK standards do not fall behind those of the EU.
He also proposes participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, and agreements on security and keeping access to the European Arrest Warrant.
The letter does not mention previous demands that any deal must deliver the “exact same benefits” that membership of the single market and customs union currently does – effectively scrapping the party’s “six tests” that had been its Brexit policy.
The BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer would be meeting cabinet office minister David Lidington to discuss the proposals.
But the move was met with dismay by Labour members of the People’s Vote campaign for another EU referendum, who accused Mr Corbyn of going back on his commitment, made at the party’s conference, to back a public vote if he can’t force a general election.
Labour MP Chris Leslie tweeted: “Seriously? Offering to help Tory Govt enable Brexit? It’s not just Labour’s conference policy in the bin.
“When the jobs go & revenues for services dry up as a result – Labour’s leadership will have ZERO right to complain: they share responsibility.”