Brexit Talks Leave May's Tories and Corbyn's Labour Divided

  • Davis rebuts claims Boris Johnson forced May to change course
  • Corbyn under pressure to alter Labour stance on single market

Theresa May’s hope of uniting her Conservative Party behind an agreed position on Brexit seemed to be in danger only two days after she set it out, with reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was unhappy about aspects of her proposed transition as the U.K. leaves the European Union.

Allies of Johnson said his hints last week that he might resign had forced May to shift position and drop a lengthier transition, and was resisting the idea that new EU rules would apply to the U.K. during that time, according to reports in the Times, Telegraph, Mail and Express newspapers.

Brexit Secretary David Davis was scathing about Johnson. “The simple truth is Boris signed up to this,” he told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “Boris was there on Friday saying this is a good outcome, this is the right thing. The policy in the prime minister’s speech had been coming for a long time. I don’t think there’s been any change of policy in the last few weeks.”

With the next round of Brexit talks due to begin on Monday, May’s aim was to break a deadlock over money and the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. Suggestions that Britain’s position could shift won’t help.

Davis rejected the suggestion from some Euro-skeptics that May’s proposed two-year transition period would effectively mean Britain remains a member of the EU until 2021.

“In 2019 we will leave, we’ll come out from under the jurisdiction and the lawmaking of the European Union,” he said. “We’ll have a couple of years which allows people to adapt. Most of the people who voted Brexit will say to you we want a practical, upbeat, real, effective Brexit. That’s what we’re going to get.”

The opposition Labour Party faced its own divisions, with more than 30 lawmakers writing an open letter to leader Jeremy Corbyn urging him to commit to staying inside the EU’s single market, something he has ruled out. A motion along these lines has been proposed for this week’s party conference in Brighton.

But on the Marr Show, Corbyn, a lifelong foe of EU membership who was persuaded to campaign against Brexit during the 2016 referendum, said he worried that staying inside the single market could prevent him from achieving goals such as taking railways into state ownership.

Rail Services

“We need to look very carefully at the terms of our trade relationship, because at the moment we are a part of the single market and that has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending and pressures on it, through the European Union, to privatize rail and other services,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about the powers we need as a national government.”

John McDonnell, the party’s treasury spokesman, said that EU free movement rules made it “difficult to see” how the U.K. could stay in the single market while addressing voter concerns about immigration. He argued that an agreement on tariff-free access to the market would achieve the same goals.

Earlier, Davis’s BBC interview confirmed several points left unclear in May’s speech:

  • The U.K. would pay “roughly” 10 billion pounds ($13.5 billion) a year into the EU budget during the proposed transition period
  • While May has said Britain will meet its financial obligations, the final bill, including matters for pension liabilities, are still a matter for negotiation
  • He rejected suggestions the final bill could be either 100 billion euros or 40 billion euros, but refused to name a sum
  • After Brexit, EU citizens won’t be able to take cases about their rights to the European Court of Justice
  • But joint courts between Britain and the EU to resolve disputes would be “quite likely,” he said.
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