Theresa May has indicated her willingness to work with Labour to break the Brexit impasse, offering fresh concessions on workers’ rights and calling for further cross-party talks.
In a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, the prime minister suggested legislation to enforce a promise to maintain workers’ rights and environmental protections after Brexit.
Mrs May also pledged a commitment to “asking parliament whether it wishes to follow suit” whenever the EU makes future changes in those areas.
Those promises could help persuade some wavering Labour MPs to back the government’s Brexit deal as fears rise of a no-deal departure from the EU.
But Eurosceptic Conservative MPs are likely to see the letter as an attempt to bounce them into backing Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement for fear of an even “softer” cross-party Brexit.
Mr Corbyn wrote to the prime minister last week setting five conditions for Labour to support a cross-party deal, including a permanent customs union to deliver “frictionless” trade.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, told Mrs May when she visited Brussels last week that the Labour leader’s plan offered a “promising way out” of the current deadlock.
However, in her response to Mr Corbyn, Mrs May resisted calls of a full customs union, writing that it would imperil British ambitions for an independent trade policy, and that the current withdrawal agreement already provided most of the benefits of a customs union such as no tariffs.
Mrs May added that completely frictionless trade would only be possible if Britain stayed in the single market, meaning continued freedom of movement of EU citizens.
The prime minister welcomed Mr Corbyn’s concerns about the so-called Irish backstop in the withdrawal agreement — designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland — and invited Labour to help her explore “alternative arrangements” that would satisfy both parliament and the EU. Brussels has refused to reopen the withdrawal agreement.
Amid the political wrangling, Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI business group, accused Westminster of “almost negligence” for failing to resolve the political crisis over Brexit. “I think we really are in the emergency zone of Brexit now,” she told Sky News on Sunday. “This is real danger time.”
Corporate America has also sounded the alarm over mounting Brexit risks, beefing up warnings to investors as boardrooms worry about a disorderly departure. Several of the largest US companies have for the first time put Wall Street on formal notice of the risks of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.
Cadbury owner Mondelez said in a regulatory filing: “In the case of a hard Brexit, our exposure to disruptions to our supply chain, the imposition of tariffs and currency devaluation in the UK could result in a material impact to our consolidated revenue, earnings and cash flow.”
Labour will this week try to force Mrs May to deliver another “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal before the end of February. Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, will put forward an amendment within days aimed at compelling Mrs May to hold such a vote before February 26.
Downing Street has promised a new amendable Brexit motion by February 27 but has not said it will be a true meaningful vote on her withdrawal agreement.
If no changes are agreed by Wednesday she will issue a “neutral motion” for debate on Thursday, at which point a series of amendments will be put forward — including Sir Keir’s.
Supporters of a second Brexit referendum are still arguing about whether they too will push an amendment this week.
Peter Kyle, MP for Hove and Portslade, and Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield, have prepared an amendment offering anti-Brexit MPs’ support for Mrs May if she agrees to then put the deal to a public vote.
But Mr Kyle admitted the amendment could be held back for a few weeks. “Often these things have been scuppered when egos have become more important than the issue itself.”