REFERRING to PM May’s letter sent to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, said yesterday: ‘Yes. I think she feels, as I do, that there isn’t actually as much dividing us from the Labour Party as some people suggest.’
He was speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme, when he said: ‘What she is saying is that we have a lot of common ground, a lot more common ground perhaps than people have acknowledged, on things like environmental protections, workers’ rights, making sure that we get investment into areas of the country which haven’t done as well out of the last few years as other parts of the country.’
Asked if May realised she needed more Labour votes, Stewart said: ‘Certainly, the maths suggest that to get this through we’re going to need support from all around the House.’
However, Stewart rejected Corbyn’s insistence on a permanent Customs Union, he said: ‘The prime minister remains very clear that she thinks that a very major economy like the United Kingdom needs to have the freedom to be able to make its own trade deals, so she’s disagreeing with Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that we enter a permanent Customs Union.’
After the newfound common ground between May and Corbyn, May will make a statement to the House of Commons today, a day earlier than expected.
Corbyn initially sent a letter to May in which he made serious overtures to her.
May replied to Corbyn: ‘It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.’
Leading Tory Brexiteer Boris Johnson was also interviewed on Today where he was asked: ‘In opposing Theresa May’s deal aren’t you making the idea of a softer Brexit more likely?’
He replied: ‘I reject these terms harder and softer. There are two varieties of remaining in the Customs Union which are currently on offer.
‘It is clear that Jeremy Corbyn has done a U-turn and he now wants to frustrate Brexit very largely by staying in a permanent Customs Union.
‘The proposal has the logic that it would mean that the UK had some representation in setting EU trade policy and therefore UK trade policy. It is not clear how that would work, it sounds to me like being a member of the EU, quite frankly.’
When asked about a compromise with the Labour Party he said: ‘The difference between the government’s position in the Backstop is that we would remain in the Customs Union, but we would have no say in it.
‘Jeremy Corbyn’s position has the logic that the UK would somehow be sitting around the table in Brussels. I don’t know how it is supposed to work, it looks like staying in the EU.’
Stating that he his against both Corbyn’s position and May’s, he said: ‘The Backstop means that you are in the Customs Union, you cannot do free trade deals, Brussels is running your trade policy, you are collecting tariffs and sending 80% of the value to Brussels, you are effectively a colony of the EU.’
He was then asked: ‘Are you saying that the whole Backstop has to go or would you be satisfied with legally binding assurances that the UK would be able to leave?’
He replied: ‘You are absolutely right that the argument is about how you get out of the Backstop, how to make sure the UK isn’t locked into that prison of a Customs Union.’
Asked what would be satisfactory to him, he said: ‘You would need to have a time limit.’
Asked if that time limit would be expressed in a separate codicil rather than opening up the whole of the Backstop agreement Johnson said: ‘I don’t think that would be good enough, and indeed it is my impression from talking to colleagues in Downing Street that they don’t think it would be good enough either.
‘We would have to be able to get out of the Backstop by a certain time and we would have to be able to get out by our own volition.’
Dave Wiltshire, secretary of the All Trades Union Alliance, told News Line: ‘It is absolutely disgraceful that Labour leader Corbyn is trying to cobble together a dirty deal with PM May that will leave the UK in a permanent Customs Union and, in fact, still in the EU.
‘Workers in the trades unions must insist we must break with the EU now, taking our £39 billion with us, and that the Tories must be kicked out and replaced by a government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers and bring in socialism.’