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Theresa May defends decision to hold Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn after Tory criticism

Theresa May has attempted to explain what "on earth's happening with Brexit" in a video message to the country.

Filmed at Chequers, the Prime Minister appeared relaxed as she acknowledged she could not see Parliament "accepting" her Withdrawal Agreement after rejecting it three times. As a result, she said, the Government were trying to find a "new approach" through cross party talks.

In the message released on Sunday, the prime minister acknowledged there were "lots of things" she disagreed with the Labour Party on, but said the two parties had found common ground on many Brexit issues, including ending free movement.

Cross-party talks between the Government and Labour are expected to continue this week after Mrs May warned Brexit could "slip through our fingers" unless a compromise can be found.

On the message, released on Mrs May's Twitter account, the prime minister said: "Can we find a way through this that ensures that we can get a good deal and a deal agreed through Parliament?

"It'll mean compromise on both sides but I believe that delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us."

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Shadow business minister Rebecca Long-Bailey, a member of Labour's negotiating team, said it was "disappointing" that there had not been any shift in the Government's red lines but "the overall mood is quite a positive and hopeful one".

Speaking on Saturday, the Prime Minister said that agreeing a deal between the two parties could lead to the UK leaving the European Union in six weeks, but a failure could result in no Brexit at all.

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt says both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are having to consider how far they are willing to split their parties in order to unite the country

Mrs May also faces anger from Conservative Brexiteers over the prospect of the UK’s departure being delayed, with one minister saying that if Britons were required to elect MEPs on May 23 it would be like writing a “suicide note” for the Tory party.

Labour's key demand is for a customs union with Brussels in order to protect the flow of goods, but Brexiteers vehemently oppose anything that would restrict the UK's ability to strike free trade deals through being bound by tariffs set by the EU.

The letter to Mr Corbyn has been signed by 80 MPs. Credit: Love Socialism Hate Brexit campaign/Twitter

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also under pressure from his party to insist on a second referendum on any agreement – although that could trigger a revolt by some of his MPs, including senior frontbenchers.

On Saturday, 80 Labour MPs wrote to Mr Corbyn and members of the shadow cabinet, demanding that he secure a guarantee of a second referendum in any Brexit deal he reaches with the Prime Minister.

The letter states that a public vote should be the "bottom line" in the Brexit negotiations with the Government, and warns any concessions secured in the cross-party talks - which have so far failed to produce a breakthrough - cannot be guaranteed, meaning a referendum is a necessary safeguard.

Many Labour MPs are calling for a second referendum. Credit: PA

Speaking on Sunday, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom ruled out a second referendum, calling the idea "appalling" and "unacceptable".

Meanwhile, Ms Long-Bailey told BBC's Andrew Marr Show that Labour had discussed how any changes to the Brexit agreement "could be entrenched" so that any potential future Conservative leader, such as Boris Johnson, would not be able to "rip up" any compromise - a so-called "Boris-proof" deal.

The current sticking point in Brexit negotiations between Labour and the Government is thought to be over a customs union, with Downing Street dismissing as "speculation" that reports Mrs May could cave in over Labour demands for one.

However, speaking on Sunday, Ms Long-Bailey said a customs union was "defined in international law" and "the proposals we have seen from the Government so far and their direction of travel over the last two years have not been compliant with the definition of a customs union".

But Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the Prime Minister's deal with Brussels already had a "customs arrangement" in it aimed at tariff-free trade.

She added: "My expectation - and I'm not party to the discussions - is that the Prime Minister will only seek to agree those things that still constitute Brexit."

Andrea Leadsom said the Prime Minister's deal with Brussels already had a 'customs arrangement' in it aimed at tariff-free trade. Credit: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

The Prime Minister heads to Brussels on Wednesday for an emergency summit aimed at securing a further delay to Brexit, with Mrs May hoping for an extension until June 30 at the latest, with the option of leaving the EU earlier if a deal can get through Parliament.

If no extension is agreed then the UK is set to leave without a deal on Friday.

European Council President Donald Tusk is expected to recommend a longer postponement of one year, with a break clause in the case of earlier ratification, in a so-called “flextension” deal.

Mrs May has already obtained one extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process, postponing the date of Brexit from March 29 to April 12.

Ms Long-Bailey suggested Labour could be prepared to revoke Article 50, cancelling Brexit, if the UK was heading towards a no-deal scenario.

"We have promised our party members and our constituents that we will do all we can to avoid a no-deal situation and it's something that we would consider very, very strongly," she said.

Signalling that talks aimed at reaching a deal with the Tories were expected to continue she said "hopefully at the beginning of next week we will be having further discussions".

"But we are currently waiting for the Government to come back to us now to state whether they are prepared to move on any of their red lines," she said.

Ms Long-Bailey also said that Labour had raised the prospect of a second referendum to prevent a "damaging" or no-deal Brexit.

Brexiteer Mrs Leadsom said she would never back the revocation of Article 50, insisting the UK could "survive and thrive" after a no-deal exit and it would be "not nearly as grim as many would advocate".

The Commons Leader said the Tories were working with Labour "through gritted teeth", adding that a second referendum is an "appalling" idea and taking part in the European elections would be "utterly unacceptable".

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she was forced to reach out to Labour in a bid to come up with a compromise. Credit: ITV News

The Prime Minister said she had done "everything in my power" to persuade Tory and DUP MPs to back her deal, but acknowledged the Withdrawal Agreement had been rejected by the Commons three times and "there is no sign it can be passed in the near future".

"Because Parliament has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all," she said in a statement.

Defending the cross-party approach, she said: "The fact is that on Brexit there are areas where the two main parties agree: we both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs.

"That is the basis for a compromise that can win a majority in Parliament and winning that majority is the only way to deliver Brexit."

But she warned that "the longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all".

"It would mean letting the Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers.

"I will not stand for that," she said.

Theresa May will head to Brussels on Wednesday to ask for an extension to Brexit. Credit: PA

Despite Mrs May saying she was working with Labour in a bid to come to a "compromise" agreement, Labour has accused the Prime Minister of refusing to consider changes to the Political Declaration, the document setting out a framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Mr Corbyn said: “The Labour position is a customs union with the European Union, access to European markets and the retention of regulations for environment, consumers, and workplace rights as a base on which we can build – a dynamic relationship which means we can never fall below them.

“We’ve set all that out. I haven’t noticed any great change in the Government’s position so far. I’m waiting to see the red lines move.”

Meanwhile, Tory Eurosceptics are furious at the Prime Minister's handling of the Brexit process.

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News: "The Prime Minister could have taken us out on March 29.

"It was the Prime Minister who asked for an extension, it was the Prime Minister who changed the date by prerogative power from March 29 to April 12.

"This all rests with her and upon her shoulders. The Prime Minister, Mrs May, has made active choices to stop us leaving and she deserves to be held to account for that."

Ex-whip Michael Fabricant predicted "open revolt" in the Conservative Party and among Leave voters if Mrs May agreed to a customs union.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Conservative activists are refusing to campaign for the party and donations have "dried up" because of Mrs May's leadership.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, more than 100 current and would-be Tory councillors state that they are unable to muster the volunteers needed to effectively fight next month's local elections because "belief in the party they joined is gone".

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said Mrs May's approach "threatens to damage the Conservatives for years" and that teaming up with Mr Corbyn could be "potentially disastrous for the nation".

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: "There is now a danger that Brexit could be lost and that the Government could fall - handing the keys to Downing Street to Corbyn."