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Hopes of Brexit Breakthrough Dashed as Bipartisan Talks Collapse

Posted by hkarner - 18. Mai 2019

Date: 17-05-2019
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The decision means the U.K.’s path out of the EU remains unclear

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the talks “have now gone as far as they can.”

LONDON—The U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party on Friday pulled the plug on Brexit talks with the government, dashing hopes for a formal bipartisan solution to break the logjam in Parliament over the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The decision, which wasn’t a surprise, means the country’s path out of the EU remains unclear almost three years after voters chose to exit from the bloc in a 2016 referendum.

The collapse of the talks and the uncertainty around the possible replacement of Mrs. May in coming months sent the pound to its lowest level against the dollar since January. One pound traded for as low as $1.275. It also slid to a three month low against the euro, trading for €1.142.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said talks about finding a compromise plan that could win majority support from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle “have now gone as far as they can.”

The six weeks of crossparty talks came after Parliament on three occasions rejected a withdrawal package Mrs. May negotiated with Brussels, prompting the U.K.’s beleaguered premier to reach out to her opponents to salvage her plan and secure both an orderly divorce and her own political legacy.

Mr. Corbyn said Labour was stepping away from the talks because negotiators proved unable to bridge gaps on Brexit policy. He added the party has also grown increasingly concerned that any deal reached risks being torn up by Mrs. May’s successor as Conservative Party leader and prime minister.

Mrs. May, who has come under increasing pressure to quit from hard-line pro-Brexit lawmakers unhappy with her Brexit plan, has signaled she will stand down within months.

Following Labour’s announcement, a government spokesman said real progress was made during the talks but said “it is clear that we are not going to be able to reach a complete agreement.”

The prime minister “continues to work hard…so that the U.K. can leave the EU with a deal as soon as possible,” he added.

Major sticking points on policy in the talks were over whether to forge a customs union with the EU after Brexit and whether a second referendum should be held to ratify any Brexit deal.

Labour argued a customs union, which would set common tariffs on goods entering both jurisdictions, would help preserve untrammeled trade and maintain delicate cross-border supply chains critical to some parts of British industry.

The Conservatives feared such an arrangement would hamper the country’s ability to sign trade deals with other countries. They’re also opposed to another referendum.

Lawmakers are due to vote again on Mrs. May’s withdrawal deal when they consider a key piece of Brexit legislation on the week of June 3.

Ahead of this vote, which the government is expected to lose, Conservative ministers will continue to lobby Labour lawmakers to back Mrs. May’s deal, though no formal talks with the opposition are planned, the government spokesman said.

One possible route to break the impasse—holding another round of voting in Parliament on various Brexit options—is being considered but no firm plans have been set, he added.

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