Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Theresa May offering to throw Labour’s support behind her Brexit deal if she made five binding commitments, including joining a customs union but the prime minister wrote back to say no thanks.
Westminster watchers said May’s letter was aimed not just at Corbyn and his MPs, aiming to publicly expose how little space there really is between Labour’s Brexit tests and her negotiated deal but also at the rebels in May’s own party.
With the two leaders at least talking cordially to each other, however, it does feel like the prospect of some long-overdue Brexit rapprochement may not not be entirely fanciful – which is more can be said of May’s relationship with the EU.
The European council president, Donald Tusk’s remark that there should be a “special place in hell” for those who promoted Brexit without a plan drew a predictable response, although at least May left Brussels with a promise of further talks from Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, however, repeated that there was no question of Brussels giving in to Downing Street’s demands on the backstop: “Something has to give” in the UK’s position, he said. “We’re waiting for clarity and movement.”
Inevitably, with no new suggestions from London on ways to resolve the Irish backstop problem, a crunch vote in which MPs could force Theresa May’s hand could be delayed to the end of the month or later.
The prime minister also returned from a brief trip to Northern Ireland no closer to any backstop progress, as the head of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, said the UK was “in the emergency zone of Brexit now” and continued confusion would not just affect jobs and investment but harm the UK as a long-term business destination.
Meanwhile, the government has started recruiting civilians for an emergency command-and-control centre tasked with making sure sure Britain runs smoothly after a no-deal Brexit. The Bank of England warned the economy was on course for its weakest year since the global financial crisis.