May refusing to budge on Brexit customs union

The government is refusing to budge on Labour’s central demand for a permanent customs union in cross-party talks on Brexit, according to Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary.

In interviews broadcast on Thursday, she also warned the government’s plan to put May’s withdrawal agreement back before parliament without first reaching agreement with Labour was a “dangerous” stunt.

Long-Bailey, a key member of Labour’s negotiating team in the talks, said the issue of the customs union remained the key sticking point.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “In terms of the customs union, we’ve been repeatedly pushing them on this point, and they haven’t reached the position that we would like them to get to by any stretch at the moment.”

Asked if the government had moved at all on the issue, Long-Bailey said: “At the moment, no, they haven’t moved to the position that we need them to. And what worries us … is we also see letters from Tory MPs stating that they categorically shouldn’t support a customs union type arrangement.”

Long-Bailey was not asked whether Labour would support, or abstain on, the withdrawal agreement bill when it came back to parliament in the first week of June. And although she is considered the most pro-Brexit member of Labour’s negotiating team, she suggested the party was not ready to back it.

“It’s imperative that this is sorted out as quickly as possible,” she told BBC Breakfast. “And I think stunts and pushing things forward without consensus within parliament are very dangerous at this stage.”

She later told Today: “If it fails for a fourth time, I think people are very quickly going to start losing faith in our abilities as a parliament to be able to deal with this. So the government really needs to recognise this and very, very quickly.”

She said Labour was worried that whatever was agreed in the talks could be “ripped into pieces” by Theresa May’s successor.

Later on Thursday, May will face a showdown with members of the executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs over their demand for a firm resignation date.

Before the meeting, the committee’s treasurer, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, told the Press Association: “It would be infinitely preferable if she set a date rather than us force her out. It’s better that she does it than we have a vote of confidence. What I would like to see is her set out a timetable to trigger a leadership contest.”

After May’s appearance before the committee, it will consider changes to the party’s leadership rules that currently prevent another leadership contest before December.

May’s former joint chief of staff Nick Timothy wrote in the Daily Telegraph that it was “beyond time” for her “to accept that the game is up”.

In order to avoid a “national humiliation” and save the Conservative party, Timothy said the PM must “do her duty and stand aside” rather than cling to power.