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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will face lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday after another day of inconclusive talks with the opposition Labour Party further dented her hopes of reaching a Brexit deal.
Already under pressure after a disastrous set of results for her Conservative Party in local elections last week, the beleaguered premier’s cabinet concluded on Tuesday that cross-party talks are stalling and unlikely to deliver an agreement on the way forward, according to people familiar with the matter.
That means the government’s focus is likely to turn to what happens next, and how to offer Parliament a range of Plan B options to chose from, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing confidential issues.
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May invited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to work with her team on a joint plan for Brexit in April, after Parliament voted for a third time to reject the deal she negotiated with the European Union.
But so far no joint blueprint has been agreed. Talks on Tuesday were described as “robust” by Labour, who accused May’s team, led by her de facto deputy, David Lidington, of failing to offer any concessions. Negotiations are scheduled to resume Wednesday afternoon.
“The Government needs to move on its red lines and we expect to make compromises, but without a government that’s willing to compromise, it’s difficult to see how any agreement can be reached,” Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business spokeswoman, said in a pooled TV interview. “They haven’t moved on any of their previous positions as yet.”
May’s office issued a statement that described the talks as “constructive and detailed,” echoing terminology used after inconclusive talks earlier in the process.
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One person familiar with the matter said a positive breakthrough had been unlikely Tuesday after both parties were buffeted by the backlash from bad election results last week.
Those results also intensified calls from angry Tories for May to go. Media reports said Graham Brady, chairman of the so-called 1922 committee that represents rank-and-file Conservative MPs, would tell May to spell out a date for her departure at a private meeting on Tuesday.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Brady used the talks with the prime minister to set a deadline of 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the committee’s executive is due to meet, for May to provide a “roadmap” for quitting.
James Slack, May’s spokesman, said she set out a timetable for ending her premiership in a statement to Parliament on March 29 and her plans have not changed.
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“She intends to step down once the first part of the Brexit process is completed,” Slack told reporters. “She’s determined to find a way to get this over the line.”
Long-Bailey, who was one of Labour’s representatives in Tuesday’s talks, said there is “willingness” to find consensus but there had been “no movement” from the government on a customs union with the EU after Brexit, a key Labour demand.
Lidington conceded before Tuesday’s talks that efforts to find a way forward will not be concluded in time to avoid taking part in the European Parliament elections on May 23. The aim is now to conclude Brexit before elected MEPs take their seats July 2, he said.
“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place,” Lidington told the BBC. “But legally, they do have to take place -- unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect -- so those will now go ahead.”
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay also told colleagues at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that the government must not give up preparing contingency measures for a no-deal split from the EU, the people said. Barclay warned that a no-deal Brexit is still possible if an agreement has not been reached when the EU’s extended deadline expires Oct. 31.
The only option then left would be to ask for another extension -- which the EU leaders could refuse -- or to cancel Brexit, which members of the U.K. Parliament may be reluctant to do, he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Thomas Penny in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Tim Ross in London at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Stuart Biggs, Robert Jameson
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