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Theresa May holding Brexit talks with Corbyn to forge a deal
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May will try to thrash out a Brexit compromise with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday, a gamble that could see a European Union divorce deal finally clear parliament but also tear her party apart.
Mrs May said earlier there were several areas of agreement between them as talks between them got underway. ". . . what we want to do now is to find a way forward that can command the support of this House and deliver on Brexit," Mrs May told parliament. She listed a desire to protect jobs, to leave the EU with a deal and to end free movement as some of the areas of agreement.
The United Kingdom was supposed to leave the EU last Friday, but three years after Britons voted for Brexit in a referendum, it is still unclear how, when or even if it will exit the bloc.
After her EU withdrawal deal was rejected three times by lawmakers, with parliament and her Conservative Party hopelessly divided over Brexit, Mrs May said on Tuesday she would talk to Mr Corbyn in a bid to overcome what is now a national crisis.
However, by approaching Mr Corbyn, a veteran socialist deeply disliked by many Conservatives and mocked by Mrs May herself as unfit to govern, she risks enflaming Conservative divisions. Two ministers quit on Wednesday.
"It now seems that you and your Cabinet have decided that a deal - cooked up with a Marxist who has never once in his political life, put British interests first - is better than no deal," Nigel Adams said as he resigned as a minister for Wales.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a junior minister, said: "I simply cannot support any further extension to Article 50 and this obviously means I cannot stay in government."
A hardcore eurosceptic group of Conservative has refused to back the divorce deal she struck with the EU, saying it did not represent a decisive break with Europe.
Her decision to turn to Labour, which wants to stay in a customs union with the EU, may make a "soft" Brexit that keeps Britain's economy closely aligned to the world's biggest trading bloc more likely.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the government would accept a soft Brexit if lawmakers voted for it.
"If an agreement is reached between the two respective leaders, then my expectation is that there would then be a stable majority to deliver on that," he told a parliamentary committee.
Sterling rose on hopes for a softer Brexit, hitting its highest level since March 28.
Mrs May also said on Tuesday she would seek another delay - "as short as possible" - to the current Brexit date of April 12. She has repeatedly said she did not want an extension which would see Britain having to take part in European Parliament elections on May 23.
European Council President Donald Tusk said it was not certain how European leaders would view her request. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said there was currently no reason to agree an extension. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland would support a delay.
As it stands, Britain will still leave the EU on April 12 without a deal, something many Conservative lawmakers would like to happen but a scenario businesses fear could wreak chaos and cause huge economic damage. A survey of services firms ranging from banks to high-street hairdressers on Wednesday suggested the world's fifth-biggest economy was likely to shrink in the coming months because of Brexit uncertainty.
"I realise some of you will be concerned about the government discussing the way forward with the opposition," Mrs May said in a letter to Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday. "However, with some colleagues unwilling to support the government . . . this is the only way to deliver the smooth, orderly Brexit that we promised." REUTERS