Brexit: Breakthrough in cross-party talks?

Whilst it is very likely that the United Kingdom will have to participate in the European elections, Prime Minister Theresa May is still trying to find a deal before 23 May, the day of the elections in the UK. She announced this week that she wants to finalize the cross-party discussions with Labour and stated on 2 May that after a month of talks, a new Brexit deal could be in sight.

However, the crucial point raised by Labour regarding staying in the customs union with the European Union remains still open for discussion. May stated that the Government and the Labour Party, are “trying to achieve similar aims in the area of customs, which is to protect jobs.”

The other hot issue in the Brexit negotiations, the Irish border, will be discussed in a new Alternative Arrangements Commission, which aims to develop alternative solutions to a hard Irish border and was launched this week by the politically independent platform Prosperity.

If no agreement is reached, May also said this week that the government would give Members of Parliament the chance to vote on a series of options, with ministers abiding by the outcome. In any case May believes she can still avoid the European elections. The Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis also told the BBC on 2 May that there is still some time for the Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement.

In the meantime, life continues. Today voters are heading to the polls for council and mayoral elections across England and Northern Ireland. This is the biggest set of local elections in England’s four-year electoral cycle, with more than 8,400 seats being contested. The elections are not, as usual, dominated by local issues, but actually only concern Brexit. The Conservatives are set to lose 800 councillors according to projections. The projections also suggested that Labour could gain 300 seats and the Liberal Democrats 500. Neither Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party nor Change UK are contesting the local elections.

Next steps?

So the aim for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn is still to make an announcement on a possible compromise deal as quick as possible. Not only the Government is under pressure, but also Labour leader Corbyn. Many Labour members are in favour of a second referendum, yet the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) agreed that its manifesto for the European Parliament elections will reflect the existing Labour Party position on Brexit, without a stronger commitment to a second referendum.

The big questions are: is it possible to find a deal before 23 May and even then will it get the support of the House of Commons?