Labour and Tory Brexit talks close to collapse, says John McDonnell

John McDonnell

John McDonnell has warned that the cross-party Brexit talks are close to collapse — just as the cabinet agreed that they should continue.

The cabinet decided today that talks between the government and Labour will continue despite Tory opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s key demand. After a marathon meeting ministers agreed to carry on but stressed that it was “imperative” for a Brexit deal to get through parliament by the summer recess.

With Theresa May’s future linked to the passage of a Brexit deal, getting legislation through the Commons and Lords by the summer break could also pave the way for her departure from Number 10.

Ministers spent more than two hours discussing the Brexit situation and despite the apparent lack of progress in talks with Labour decided not to end the process, but with a clear view that “we need to get a move on”.

Meanwhile Mr McDonnell said: “We are not near what we want. However, we then get a letter signed by a number of senior Conservatives, published this morning, by Boris Johnson . . . who is certainly going to be in contention for the leadership . . . could well be prime minister in, literally, months, and in a situation where he in his letter today says he is not going to accept a customs union, and, actually, he will overturn the deal that we negotiate.

“It gives us no security on that.”

The letter, signed by 13 former ministers or cabinet attendees, as well as Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, urged Mrs May not to agree Labour’s plan on a customs union.

Today, the shadow chancellor also told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference in London that deep in his heart he was “still a Remainer”.

Asked if Jeremy Corbyn was also still a Remainer in his heart, the shadow chancellor said: “Yes.” He said they campaigned together before the referendum.

He also addressed the issue of whether there should be a confirmatory public vote on any deal hammered out in the cross-party talks.

“Because we are in negotiations, we have been saying to our Conservative colleagues that to get something through Parliament you may well have to concede that there is a public vote of some sort,” he said.

“We need to test the numbers on that. And at the moment there has not been much of a shift.”

He added: “There are a large number of MPs who will not sign up to anything unless there is a public vote.”