Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are at loggerheads after the Prime Minister refused to give in to Labour’s “impossible condition” of ruling out a no deal Brexit.
In a letter to the Labour leader, May urged her opposite number to drop the demand – which is Corbyn’s precondition for any cross-party talks on breaking the Brexit deadlock.
The Labour leader has also instructed his MPs to refuse talks with the government until May backs down.
Labour MPs who met ministers on Thursday – including Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn and Stephen Kinnock – also told the government a no deal scenario needed to be ruled out before talks could continue, a position echoed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.
May last night insisted it was not within her power to make such a promise, as the only way to stop a no deal outcome is to reach an agreement with the EU or stop Brexit entirely.
In her letter to Corbyn, the Prime Minister also claimed it would not be possible to extend the Article 50 negotiating process, as that would need the agreement of the EU.
She said: “You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?"
May’s Brexit deal was defeated by a record 230 votes in the Commons on Tuesday, and after surviving a confidence vote a day later, the Prime Minister set out plans to hold talks with opposition leaders.
Downing Street confirmed the PM is sticking by her principles that any Brexit deal must see the UK having its own independent trade policy, therefore ruling out membership of a customs union with the EU.
May has scrapped next week's trip to Davos as she struggles to pull together a plan which would have the support of a majority of MPs.
Responding to her letter, a Labour spokesperson dismissed the plea for talks, saying: “The Prime Minister is in denial about the consequences of the scale of the defeat of her deal on Monday. To win support in parliament, any new deal must ditch her red lines.
“As opposition MPs who have met with the government today have discovered, the Prime Minister is not yet prepared for serious talks to find a way forward. The starting point for any talks must be that she commits to rule out no deal.”
The Prime Minister is set to inform the Commons of her ‘plan B’ on Monday, with MPs getting a vote on the proposal on 29 January.