LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape its exit from the EU, its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, hit the rocks on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions.
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After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution.
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Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties — which together hold 88 percent of the 650 seats in parliament — were prepared to compromise on key demands.
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Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling toward the cliff edge of a sudden exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch her “red lines”. But he repeated his own condition for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit.
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“The government confirmed that she would not take ‘no-deal’ off the table,” Corbyn said in a speech in Hastings, scene of a battle in 1066 that ushered in the Norman conquest of England.
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“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.”
But the further May moves toward softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a crucial bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared
May’s spokeswoman said the prime minister had held “constructive” talks on Thursday with lawmakers, including some from Labour, to explore ways of winning support for her deal.