- Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand
A Cabinet minister has insisted there is “no chance” of Theresa May accepting Labour’s vision for Brexit despite speculation the Prime Minister could soften her stance on customs union membership.
Andrea Leadsom’s comments came after Mrs May responded to a letter from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in which he set out his Party's terms for backing a Brexit deal, with an offer of further talks.
Also on Monday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay held “constructive” talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in which they agreed to further meetings in the coming days, while their teams will continue to work in the meantime to find a way forward.
However, Mr Barnier insisted that the controversial backstop - the major sticking point in the current Brexit deal - would not be reopened for further negotiations.
In Mrs May's response to Mr Corbyn, released on Sunday night, the Prime Minister welcomed his agreement that the UK should leave the EU with a deal and his support for finding “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop.
Mrs May ruled out Mr Corbyn's key call for the UK to remain in a customs union with Brussels, the Prime Minister did offer concessions in other areas, and said she wanted talks between Labour and Tory teams "as soon as possible".
While some believed Mrs May's letter to offer a more conciliatory tone to Mr Corbyn, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said she did not believe the Prime Minister was "softening her stance at all.
“I think she’s making quite clear that what Corbyn is demanding is actually not as good as what the Prime Minister’s deal is offering.
“So he wants a customs union and he is unclear as to whether that means he also wants an independent trade policy.
"He’s unclear as to whether he also wants to stop free movement, and of course the EU’s view would be well if you’re in the customs union then you have free movement and you abide by the common external tariff.
“I think there’s no doubt that what the Prime Minister is offering is better than what Corbyn is demanding, which simply begs the question, if they like it, why don’t they vote for it?”
Pressed again on the issue, Mrs Leadsom said there was “no chance” that Mrs May would adopt Mr Corbyn’s “view of the world”.
“The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear we’re leaving the EU, we’re leaving the customs union, we’re leaving the single market.
“We’re taking back control, we won’t be paying money over, free movement will end, and we will have our own independent free trade policy so I definitely don’t see the Prime Minister agreeing to Corbyn’s world view.”
The frontbencher refused to say what the cut-off date would be for the necessary legislation to get through the Commons to allow the UK to leave the EU as planned on March 29.
She said it was possible to pass Bills “quite quickly” with “good will” from the Commons and Lords, but added: “It’s just not possible to say how quickly it could be done, but obviously it depends on the way in which there is adequate debate on the meaningful vote and that’s what the Prime Minister is determined to do.
"(It) is to make sure that parliamentarians have had ample opportunity to look at the deal she’s putting forward before it comes to that meaningful vote.”
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Labour’s proposals were “not workable” while Boris Johnson accused Mr Corbyn of trying to trap the Government in a “toxic” Brexit.
There has been concern among Conservative Brexiteers that the Prime Minister could concede too much ground to Labour in an attempt to win cross-party backing for a deal with Brussels.
Downing Street meanwhile said Mrs May will make a Commons statement on the latest developments in the Brexit negotiations on Tuesday – a day earlier than expected.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said it would give MPs more time to “digest the content” ahead of a series of expected Commons votes on Thursday.
Meanwhile Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay held “constructive” talks on Monday night with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in which they agreed to further meetings in the coming days, while their teams will continue to work in the meantime to find a way forward.
However, speaking after the talks Mr Barnier insisted that the backstop will not be reopened for negotiations.
Mr Fox, in Bern for the signing of a trade agreement with Switzerland, said Labour claims they would be able to influence EU trade policy showed they did not understand how EU policy worked.
“Of course we always want to work with the opposition but the opposition has put forward some ideas that are not workable,” he told reporters.
“The idea that you can have a customs union with the EU and at the same time, as an outside country, have an effect on EU trade policy, is to not understand the EU treaties.
“It is very clear from the European Union that non-EU members do not have a say in EU trade policy so to pretend that you could do so is a dangerous delusion.”
His intervention came after Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss refused to rule out resigning if Mrs May backed a customs union.
“I absolutely do not think that should be our policy,” she told Sky News on Sunday.