Theresa May has blamed Labour’s divisions over a second referendum for the collapse of cross-party Brexit talks, after Jeremy Corbyn wrote to her to say they had “gone as far as they can”.
Speaking in Bristol at a campaign event for next week’s European elections, the prime minister said the negotiations had been constructive and had “made progress”.
But she added: “In particular, we haven’t been able to overcome the fact that there isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or have a second referendum and try to reverse it.”
In his letter to the prime minister, released on Friday, the Labour leader said the talks, designed to find a compromise Brexit plan, had been undermined by both a lack of common ground and concerns about whether a successor to May would stick to any deal.
May’s spokesman said the view was mutual: “It was clear to the government last night that the talks were not going to reach a successful conclusion.
Corbyn wrote that the talks had taken place in good faith and had been constructive, but added: “However, it has become clear that, while there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us.
“Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”
However, a Downing Street source echoed May’s claim that it was Labour’s internal conflict over a referendum that ultimately made agreement impossible – and pointed to the stance of Keir Starmer.
“It is clear that the shadow Brexit secretary has fairly strident views on the issue, and he led the Labour team in the negotiations,” the source said.
Starmer told the Guardian earlier this week that he believed it would be impossible for any deal to pass without a “confirmatory” referendum attached.
“If the point of the exercise is to get a sustainable majority, over several weeks or months of delivering on the implementation, you can’t leave a confirmatory vote out of the package,” he said.
May’s spokesman said the talks had “made real progress on some issues, such as workers’ rights and environmental protections, but it is clear we are not going to be able to reach agreement. In particular, there have been very challenging discussions in respect of the two sides on customs and the holding of a second referendum.”
However, he insisted, “it was absolutely in the national interest to enter into these discussions”. The focus will now move to the possibility of indicative votes in the Commons to find a compromise.
According to a leaked government document seen by ITV and others, May wants to hold the votes next week, before a planned vote on a withdrawal agreement in the week starting 3 June.