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(Watch Theresa May’s speech from Downing Street above)
Theresa May has criticised Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to take part in emergency Brexit talks after she scraped through a vote of no confidence in her Government’s handling of the crisis.
In a speech outside Downing Street on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister urged MPs to put self-interest aside and confirmed she had held talks with the SNP, Plaid and Lib Dems – but that Jeremy Corbyn had chosen not to take part.
Mr Corbyn had previously said he will only take part in cross-party talks if Mrs May takes the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit off the table.
Elsewhere, significantly, it has emerged that the EU could be preparing to offer a delay in Brexit until next year, with French and German officials believing the UK to be in such a logjam that it will take at least 12 months to resolve.
Previous planning had centred on a three-month delay to Brexit from March 29 until the end of June but now, according to sources quoted by The Times, EU officials are investigating legal routes to postpone Britain’s withdrawal until 2020.
May survives… just
Earlier, Mrs May survived an attempt to topple her Government by a majority of just 19 votes.
Mr Corbyn had called the vote after the PM suffered a bruising defeat on her Brexit deal yesterday – the largest defeat for a Government in modern history.
Mr Corbyn had hoped to trigger an early general election with the help of rebel Tories and smaller parties, but Mrs May survived by 325 votes to 306.
Following the vote, Mrs May immediately stated she planned to hold meetings – starting on Wednesday night – with senior parliamentarians and party leaders.
She said: “I am pleased that this House has expressed its confidence in the Government.
“I do not take this responsibility lightly and my Government will continue its work to increase our prosperity, guarantee our security and to strengthen our union.
“And yes, we will also continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise we made to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union.”
The PM told the Commons she will approach the meetings “with a constructive spirit” and urged others to do the same.
But her offer almost immediately ran into problems with the Labour leader saying that, for talks to go ahead, Mrs May should remove a no-deal Brexit from the table – a view echoed by the Liberal Democrats.
On the steps of Downing Street, Mrs May tried to present herself as the unifying force of Brexit – while simultaneously trying to pile pressure on Mr Corbyn.
She said she had held “constructive” meetings with the leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru and would meet MPs including the DUP on Thursday.
She added: “I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour Party has not so far chosen to take part, but our door remains open.”
However, a spokesperson for Mrs May said late on Wednesday that Mrs May would not be taking no-deal off the table, which means the impasse with Mr Corbyn will remain unresolved in the short term at least.
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Meanwhile, the DUP pointed out the importance of their role in the result of the vote – showing just how reliant Mrs May is on their support to prop up her Government.
The party’s Westminster Leader Nigel Dodds said: “I’m always delighted when our opponents illustrate the strength of that relationship that we have, and what is delivering for Northern Ireland.
What happens next?
Mrs May will have to try to find some kind of consensus in Parliament.
The PM has confirmed she wants to meet MPs from across Parliament before returning to the Commons on Monday to make a fresh statement on the way forward on Brexit.
Crucially, she has said she remains committed to securing an “independent trade policy” after Brexit, effectively ruling out a customs union with the EU – an area where Labour, and reportedly even members of Mrs May’s own Cabinet, has said a breakthrough could be found.
A senior Downing Street source said: “One of the principles as we approach these talks is that we want to be able to do our own trade deals. That is incompatible with either ‘a’ or ‘the’ customs union.”
Speaking after the vote, the Trade Secretary Liam Fox didn’t rule out the PM discussing a customs union in cross-party talks. Earlier, in an interview with the BBC, Justice Secretary David Gaulke refused six times to say whether Mrs May could now change her policy, appearing to cast some doubt on the issue.
Could the UK now stay in the Customs Union?
— BBC Radio 5 Live (@bbc5live) January 16, 2019
Will Brexit be delayed?
Both the EU and the UK are still preparing for Britain’s departure from Europe on March 29, but given the problems in reaching an agreement, it is increasingly possible that date could be pushed back.
According to some reports, that date could be delayed by a few weeks – possibly until July – if it looks like there is the prospect of a workable deal being reached.
Other reports say some EU officials believe political turmoil is so entrenched in the UK that they might be willing to consider offering to delay Brexit into 2020.
According to the Times, Germany and France believe UK deadlock is so entrenched that they have indicated their willingness to extend withdrawal negotiations for far longer.
Previous planning had centred on a three-month delay to Brexit from March 29 until the end of June but now, according to sources quoted by The Times, EU officials are investigating legal routes to postpone Britain’s withdrawal until next year.
Any delay would involve Article 50 being suspended – a request that would come from the UK Government and then discussed by the EU council.
On Tuesday night, Emmanuel Macron said he thought the UK would seek an extension.
“I think that’s what they’ll do. I know them a bit,” the French president said. “In that case, we’ll look into it, and maybe we’ll make improvements on one or two things.”