May rejects Corbyn plan for post-Brexit customs union
PM to provide Tuesday update as Valentine's Day vote postponed
Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn remained divided over a post-Brexit customs union on Monday although one minister suggested the pair were closer to an agreement than suggested.
Pro-leave Corbyn last week set down five demands, including a permanent customs union and guarantees on environmental and employment standards in return for support on May's stalled Brexit deal.
In reply, May questioned the need to be in a customs union “rather than the ability to strike our own deals", although she did reaffirm a commitment to securing frictionless trade with the EU.
May also rejected Corbyn's demand that environmental and workers’ rights were automatically aligned with EU standards but said parliament could vote on those issues when regulations changed.
Downing confirmed rumours that a meaningful vote on Brexit would not happen on Thursday as planned, but May would instead update parliament.
The spokesman said the government would bring a vote on a Brexit deal to parliament "as soon as possible" but it would not be this week, and that if the meaningful vote has not been passed by February 27 it had committed to a further amendable motion by that date.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier were set to hold talks in Strasbourg later on Monday, as the EU and UK Brexit negotiating teams discuss proposed changes to the deal. May wants "alternative arrangements" to the Irish backstop in the withdrawal agreement.
Prisons minister Rory Stewart said he believed May was offering a compromise to the opposition leader.
“I think she feels, as I do, that there isn’t actually as much dividing us from the Labour party as some people suggest,” he told the BBC.
“What she is saying is that we have a lot if common ground, a lot more common ground perhaps than people have acknowledged, on things like environmental protections, workers’ rights, making sure that we get investment into areas of the country which haven’t done as well out of the last few years as other parts of the country.”
“Certainly, the maths suggest that to get this through we’re going to need support from all around the house.”