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Brexit deal prospects in doubt in 'bad faith' spat

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British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday urged Labour to do a deal on Brexit this week, but the main opposition party accused her of acting in bad faith.

[LONDON] British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday urged Labour to do a deal on Brexit this week, but the main opposition party accused her of acting in bad faith.

Mrs May insisted the clobbering both main parties took in last week's English local elections increased the necessity of finding an EU divorce deal that a majority of MPs could get behind.

However, Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell, who is leading for the left-wing party in the Brexit compromise talks with Mrs May's centre-right Conservative government, said he had no trust left in the prime minister.

The Conservatives and Labour both lost ground in Thursday's English local authority polls as voters vented their frustration at the Brexit impasse dominating British politics.

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Opinion polls suggest they are on course for an even worse pasting in the European Parliament elections, which take place in Britain on May 23.

Mrs May negotiated a withdrawal agreement with Brussels last year but British MPs repeatedly voted it down, with large numbers of her own Conservative backbenchers joining the opposition in opposing it.

"Let's listen to what the voters said in the elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let's do a deal," Mrs May wrote in The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"We have to find a way to break the deadlock - and I believe the results of the local elections give fresh urgency to this.

"We will keep negotiating, and keep trying to find a way through."

CONFIDENTIALITY 'BLOWN': MCDONNELL 

The Brexit talks with Labour will resume on Tuesday.

The Sunday Times newspaper claimed that the government was prepared to give way to Labour on three areas: customs, goods alignment and workers' rights.

The broadsheet said Mrs May would set out plans for a temporary customs arrangement with the EU that would last until the next general election, which must be held by May 2022.

But Mr McDonnell said the talks had been undermined by the article, blaming Mrs May for trying to firm up her own shaky position.

"We have maintained confidentiality," he told BBC television.

"So it is disappointing the prime minister has broken that, and I think it is an act of bad faith."

Asked if he trusted Mrs May, he said: "No. Sorry. Not after this weekend when she has blown the confidentiality we had, and I actually think she has jeopardised the negotiation for her own personal protection."

Mrs May has said she will step aside once a Brexit deal has been passed by parliament but after Friday's election results she came under pressure to go sooner.

Had a withdrawal agreement been signed off on time, Britain would have left the EU on March 29. Its exit date has twice been postponed and is now set at October 31.

New International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said the ball was now in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's court,

If he wants to do a Brexit deal with Mrs May, "it will be actually surprisingly easy to do because our positions are very, very close," he told Sky News television.

Mr Stewart said he would run to replace Mrs May when the time comes.

ANGER AT 'STITCH-UP' 

The newly-formed Brexit Party is leading the opinion polls for the upcoming European elections.

Its leader, eurosceptic figurehead Nigel Farage, said any deal between Labour and the Conservatives to keep Britain in the EU's customs union would be the "final betrayal" of Brexit voters.

"If May signs up to this, I can't see the point of the Conservative Party even existing," he told Sky News.

"Millions of people would give up on both Labour and the Conservatives."

Meanwhile more than 100 opposition lawmakers have written to Mrs May and Mr Corbyn to say they would vote against any agreement the pair reach unless it is subject to a new referendum.

"The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up, whether over the PM's deal or another deal," the letter says.

In the original referendum in 2016, British voters chose to end their membership of the 28-nation EU by a narrow 52 per cent to 48 per cent margin.

AFP