British ministers reportedly hold secret talks with Labour to force soft Brexit as Theresa May apologises for ‘this mess’
May’s Conservatives unexpectedly lost their majority in parliament in last Thursday’s snap general election, causing political chaos ahead of the Brexit talks
Senior ministers in Britain’s Conservative government and members of the main opposition Labour Party have held secret talks to ensure a soft Brexit, The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday.
According to the newspaper, the talks – which are said to involve some of the most senior members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet – aim to force her to make concessions on immigration, the European customs union and the single market.
A cross-party Brexit Commission was also reportedly discussed to ensure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.
May backed the “Remain” side ahead of last year’s historic referendum over Britain’s membership to the EU. But since coming to power three weeks after the shock vote to leave the EU, the prime minister has advocated a hard Brexit, which would entail Britain leaving the single market and cutting immigration from the bloc.
May’s Conservatives unexpectedly lost their majority in parliament in last Thursday’s snap general election, causing political chaos ahead of the Brexit talks with the EU which are set to start next week.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has made strong gains off the back of a surge in youth turnout, mainly fuelled by last year’s Brexit vote.
The MPs involved in the secret talks are believed to be “Remainers” – those who backed staying in the EU – who had already forged alliances when they campaigned together in the lead-up to the referendum.
The daily newspaper also reported that May has been “aware” of the secret talks for days but that she has so far done nothing to stop them.
The disastrous election result also prompted calls – from within her own party – for her resignation, leading May to apologise to her own MPs on Monday evening.
“I got us into this mess, and I’m going to get us out,” May told Conservatives MPs, seeking to ward off any challenge to her leadership.”
Foreign minister Boris Johnson, who was reported by British media to be lining up a leadership bid, insisted May should stay.
“The people of Britain have had a bellyful of promises and politicking,” he wrote in The Sun tabloid. “Now is the time for delivery – and Theresa May is the right person to continue that vital work.”
Brexit minister David Davis insisted the government still aimed to take Britain out of the EU single market in order “to take back control of our borders”.
He also told BBC radio that the government would “walk away” without a deal if the talks break down on ending Britain’s four-decade membership of the European bloc.
But Ruth Davidson, the pro-EU leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, called on May to “reopen” the government’s Brexit plans.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said May’s government lacked the credibility necessary for Brexit talks and should delay the negotiations.
“The idea that the UK led by this prime minister and this government can just blunder into negotiations starting one week today, I just don’t think it’s a credible proposition,” she told reporters in London.