Brexit row erupts as opposition party rejects Theresa May’s offer for talks

The British government has insisted that cross-party talks to find a consensus on Theresa May‘s Brexit plans have been “constructive,” despite the refusal of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to engage in discussions with the prime minister unless she categorically rules out the possibility of the U.K. leaving the European Union without a deal.

As leader of the largest opposition party in the Westminster Parliament, Corbyn has issued an order instructing his own MPs (Members of Parliament) that they should not hold meetings with Conservative opponents unless that specific precondition is satisfied. But a Downing Street spokesperson told reporters Thursday night that further government meetings with Labour lawmakers were expected Friday.

After her narrow victory in a parliamentary confidence vote late Wednesday, May had said she would be prepared to engage with opposition party leaders in a “constructive” spirit, to find a way forward after her Brexit proposals were crushingly rejected earlier in the week.

But she has responded to Corbyn’s demand with a letter of her own, in which she insists that it was not in the government’s power to rule out “no deal.” She reiterated that such a move was “impossible” unless Parliament had voted in favor of a specific deal, or unless the government were to revoke Article 50 of Europe’s Lisbon Treaty.

She wrote that a revocation of that treaty clause, which governs a member state’s potential exit process from the EU, would mean overturning the result of the 2016 referendum, and this would be “wrong.”

The heads of the five smaller opposition parties have already agreed to meet with the prime minister, and those conversations will likely continue over the weekend. Corbyn’s insistence on this particular precondition seems to have jeopardized his relationship with at least one of those parties.

Vince Cable, Britain’s former business secretary who now leads the 11-member Liberal Democrat bloc in parliament, criticized Corbyn’s approach and said he would not support Labour in any future no-confidence motion if the Labour leader maintained his current stance.

Under legislation passed in 2011, a no-confidence vote of the kind May won on Wednesday is one of only two permissible routes to a snap national election, which Corbyn in a speech to supporters on Thursday once again acknowledged was his preferred method for resolving the U.K.’s current Brexit deadlock.

Under an unprecedented parliamentary requirement that was approved amid great controversy earlier in the month, May must develop an alternative plan on Brexit and present it to the House of Commons by Monday, January 21. Ordinary lawmakers will then have the opportunity to add suggestions to that plan during a public debate process, before it faces a vote.

May’s official envoy to the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has announced the government would seek to hold that vote on January 29, precisely two months before the current deadline for Britain’s EU exit.

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