Brexit deal: Boris Johnson in talks with Jeremy Corbyn over new timetable for bill

No breakthrough announced after Labour leader told prime minister he was ready to agree ‘reasonable’ schedule to scrutise Withdrawal Agreement Bill

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 23 October 2019 12:54 BST
Boris Johnson to pause Brexit Bill until extension decision is reached

Boris Johnson has entered talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over a new timetable to push his Brexit deal through the House of Commons.

But there was no indication of a breakthrough from either side following the face-to-face talks in Mr Johnson’s Commons office on Wednesday morning.

And there was no sign of a meeting of minds at prime minister’s questions in the Commons minutes later, where the pair tore strips off one another over the handling of what Mr Corbyn called “this worse than terrible treaty”.

However, the PM appeared to indicate he will continue his efforts to push the bill through parliament, rather than attempt to force a pre-Christmas general election.

MPs on Tuesday night voted down Mr Johnson’s attempt to force the 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons in just three days, effectively destroying the PM’s hopes of completing Brexit by his 31 October deadline.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he still believed it was in the national interest for the UK to leave the EU by Halloween, and said that it was parliament – and not the government – which had sought further delay from the EU.

But he added: “I will wait to see what our EU friends and partners say in response both to the request for delay from parliament and also to the insistence by parliament that they want a delay.

“I don’t think the people of this country want a delay. I don’t want a delay. I intend to press on, but I’m afraid that we now have to see what our EU friends will decide on our behalf.”

Following today’s meeting, a Labour spokesperson said: “Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the prime minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crash-out is off the table.”

Conservative sources said that the PM asked Mr Corbyn whether Labour would back “a timetable that allows us to actually get Brexit done rather than yet more delay”, but that the Labour leader’s response made clear his policy would lead to more delays and a referendum in 2020.

Also present at the meeting were Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, chief whip Mark Spencer and Mr Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings as well as Labour chief whip Nick Brown and Mr Corbyn’s aide Seumas Milne.

Speaking at PMQs, Mr Corbyn uged Mr Johnson to “accept that parliament should have the necessary time to improve on this worse-than-terrible treaty”.

But the PM retorted: “I find it peculiar that he now wants this bill back, because he voted against it last night and he whipped his entire Labour Party against it”.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said the meeting amounted to “yet more clear proof that Jeremy Corbyn wants to deliver Brexit”.

“Yesterday, Boris Johnson’s deal passed because 19 Labour MPs walked through the lobby to vote for a Brexit deal that would be bad for our NHS, bad for our economy and bad for our environment,” said Ms Swinson.

“It seems that Jeremy Corbyn has thrown Boris Johnson another lifeline this morning, as six white men met to discuss pushing through a Brexit deal which will wreck our country.

“Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer, and Remainers won’t forget if a shady backroom deal between Johnson and Corbyn helps to deliver Brexit.”

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