International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said Government and Opposition negotiating teams had agreed “99 per cent” of a blueprint for the way forward based on close customs links between the UK and Brussels.
Speaking ahead of crunch talks tomorrow aimed at finally breaking the parliamentary deadlock over the departure from the EU, Mr Stewart said:“We are keen to get a good Brexit deal done as soon as possible.”
He admitted a compromise plan agreed with Labour could shatter the Tory Party but insisted it was worth taking the risk to end the Brexit stalemate.
Rory Stewart admitted a compromise plan agreed with Labour could shatter the Tory Party
Ministers led by Mrs May’s deputy David Lidington will meet senior Labour frontbenchers in Whitehall tomorrow [Tuesday] to accelerate the attempt to forge a cross-party consensus on the Brexit way forward.
Details of the proposals under discussion, including a blueprint for a customs union which would last until at least the next general election, emerged yesterday.
Senior Tories were last night optimistic that a deal can be done with Labour despite shadow chancellor John McDonnell launching a scathing attack on the Prime Minister yesterday.
Mr McDonnell accused Mrs May of “bad faith” claiming she had left the Brexit talks in jeopardy by revealing details of the discussions.
But a Tory source insisted a mood of “movement and positivity” about the push for compromise remained in spite of the shadow chancellor’s outburst.
Mr Stewart, who was promoted to the Cabinet in a mini-reshuffle forced by the sacking of former defence secretary Gavin Williamson last week, struck an upbeat note about the talks in an interview on Sky News’ Sophie Ridge On Sunday show.
Both sides in the talks want a Brexit deal that allowed controlled immigration and an independent trade policy, he said.
“We agree on so many things,” the International Development Secretary added.
Brexit latest: Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are very close to agreeing a deal
Labour frontbenchers were pushing for a relationship with Brussels similar to that of Turkey, which is outside the EU but part of a customs union with the bloc.
“We need to see the details of this but really our positions, we’re about a quarter of an inch apart.
“We agree on 99 per cent of this stuff and there is an advantage to this which people are not talking about which is if we can get a cross party deal there is a possibility that it will remain, it will be more sustainable,” Mr Stewart said.
A cross-party deal would give businesses confidence that Brexit would not be suddenly “turned on its head” by a change of government at Westminster, he said.
“We need investors to feel this will be there for thirty years and not just for four years and a cross party deal is the way to do that.”
In a separate radio interview, Mr Stewart conceded that a compromise plan that was unpopular with Brexiteers may split the Tories.
“I think to get Brexit done and to move this country on is worth an enormous amount and you’re right, we may have to take some short term pain to do that but it’s got to be right to,” Mr Stewart said on BBC Radio Five Live.
Despite the postive notes sounded by Downing Street, Brexiteer Tories continued to signal hostility to Mrs May’s push for a Brexit deal with Labour yesterday.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “It’s not possible for her to sit down and work out a deal because she has not confidence from the party. She needs to step down.”
Tory MEP Daniel Hannan said: “If MPs don’t remove Mrs May immediately – that is, this side of the European elections in less than three weeks – there will be no Conservative Party left to inherit.”
Mr McDonnell claimed Mrs May had jeopardised Brexit talks by revealing details of the discussion
A poll by political website Conservative Home yesterday found that 82 per cent of grassroots party members quizzed wanted Mrs May to stand down as party leader.
Mrs May used a newspaper article published yesterday to urge Mr Corbyn to agree a cross-party plan.
“To the Leader of the Opposition, I say this: let’s listen to what the voters said in the elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let’s do a deal,” she wrote.
Mr McDonnell, a close ally of the Labour leader, yesterday claimed leaked details of the customs union plan had “blown” the confidentiality of the talks.
Speaking on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show, the shadow chancellor said: “She’s blown the confidentiality I had and I actually think she’s jeopardised the negotiations for her own personal protection.”
He added: “We are negotiating with Theresa May’s team as requested. Whilst we’re doing that and we think we’re gaining an understanding of our different positions and where we can reach some compromise, in the wings, if you like, are all the leadership candidates virtually threatening to tear up whatever deal that we do.
“So we’re dealing with a very unstable Government and let me just use this analogy: it’s trying to enter into a contract with a company that’s going into administration and the people who are going to take over are not willing to fulfill that contract. We can’t negotiate like that.”
We must take next step for the sake of UK – Daily Express Comment
It is not the deal that many of us voted for.
But with Theresa May reportedly within touching distance of an agreement with Labour that will get Brexit across the line, it is time for MPs and Leavers to put on a united front and back her.
Brexit negotiations have sucked the life out of politics for too long and it is time to move forward.
Despite some optimism from the Government, it may not be the easiest agreement to make.
Yesterday, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell scathingly accused the Prime Minister of putting the talks in jeopardy because of her “bad faith”, while Nigel Farage and the provisional wing of the Brexiteers have said such a deal would betray Leave voters.
And there is little doubt that a deal that heavily relied on Labour votes in the Commons would be a bitter pill to swallow for the Conservatives.
Poisonous But compromise needs to be the name of the game to get a withdrawal agreement through. For those who want a cleaner break, the truth is that in reality, the political will is not there to push that through at this time.
It is time to come to an arrangement for the sake of the country.
A deal with a customs union – importantly with a time limit on it – should finally get through Parliament and allow, at least in some way, more normal political life to continue.
Once we are out, it will be easier to assess where the country stands.
It will take the pain of a poisonous second referendum – and the extremist Remainer threat of rescinding Article 50 – off the table.
It will give a stable halfway house and if the EU is willing to be sensible and allow the UK a say in trade negotiations, it could be the basis of a future relationship.
It may be a relatively small step in terms of leaving the EU, but it is a stepping stone we should move to.