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Brexit: Government has ‘no plans’ for more talks with opposition MPs despite May pledge to seek consensus, No 10 admits

Prime minister will instead meet ‘a large number’ of cabinet deeply split over whether to compromise or stand firm

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 18 January 2019 12:48 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn says Theresa May's offer of talks with party leaders was 'simply a stunt' and says no-deal must be 'taken off the table' before cross-party talks can begin

Theresa May’s pledge to reach a cross-party consensus to solve the Brexit crisis appears to have fizzled out with no further talks planned.

Downing Street said the prime minister would instead be meeting with “a large number” of her cabinet, both in small groups and in one-to-one conversations.

There are also “no plans” for cabinet members Michael Gove and David Lidington – who have met senior backbenchers from other parties – to hold further talks, a spokesperson said.

Asked about the prime minister’s focus, she added: “Today is about discussing this week with her cabinet colleagues.”

The impasse comes after opposition MPs who emerged from the earlier talks suggested ministers had shown no willingness to compromise on the Brexit red lines.

And it increases the odds that when Ms May presents her plan B to the Commons on Monday, it will simply be a holding statement – rather than including any proposed changes to her deal.

Crucially, the statement can then be amended by supporters of a Final Say referendum, or those who prefer a softer Norway-plus exit, or to try to block the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

The prime minister has spoken with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, despite no date for her to reopen negotiations officially with the European Union.

No 10’s spokeswoman said: “That is just part of her ongoing engagement with the European leaders and you can expect her to continue that type of engagement through the course of the weekend.”

And, asked if Ms May was ruling out a snap general election, after a report that civil servants had been asked to draw up contingency plans, she replied: “Yes.”

In the talks held so far, pro-Brexit Tories have come out the happier, convinced the prime minister will stick to ruling out a customs union, an Article 50 extension or a fresh referendum.

The cabinet talks are likely to confirm it is deeply split between some members urging compromise, while others tell Ms May she must fight on to pass her deal on a second vote.

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, heightened the pressure by calling for a tougher commitment to crashing out of the EU without an agreement if necessary.

“It’s only when #nodealisbetter than a bad deal” is believed by the EU that we’ll maximise our chance of a deal, she tweeted.

And Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, dismissed a claim that the DUP were willing to embrace a softer Brexit, provided Northern Ireland will not be treated differently.

“The prime minister is very clear on our position. We have been consistent that for us it is the backstop which needs to be dealt with,” she said.

Although Ms May’s motion can be amended, that cannot happen until a debate on 29 January – and could reveal there is no majority for any alternative course of action.

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