British opposition leader warns of no deal Brexit danger

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, center, leaves the EU Commission in Brussels on Thursday after a meeting with EU Brexit negotiator. — AFP

BRUSSELS — British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned on Thursday a no deal Brexit was a “very serious and present” risk and blamed Prime Minister Theresa May’s inflexible negotiating position.

Corbyn met EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels one day after May also met top European Commission officials and as talk in London grew of a possible breakthrough in the coming days.

A Brexit deal struck by May and the other 27 EU leaders in November was rejected by British lawmakers in January and since then she has struggled to thrash out a compromise over the so-called “Irish backstop” issue.

Corbyn said he had “useful, informative and very frank” conversations with Barnier and other EU officials, outlining his Labour Party’s proposal that Britain should enter a customs union with the bloc when it leaves — an idea unacceptable to many Brexit supporters who say it would tie London’s hands on trade deals.

“The danger of no deal exit from the EU for Britain is a very serous and present one,” Corbyn told reporters afterward, urging May to soften her negotiating stance, which he said was being driven by her Conservative Party’s ultra-Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG) of MPs.

“She is allowing herself to be held to ransom by a small group in her party called the ERG and that is some of the problem. She has got to change her ways, otherwise the danger of a no deal exit, with all the chaos that would cause, is a very real possibility,” he warned.

While Corbyn was traveling to Brussels, British Finance Minister Philip Hammond raised hopes of a breakthrough in the coming days, telling the BBC there had been “some movement” by the European Union.

He said progress in the ongoing negotiations could result in a fresh vote next week on May’s divorce deal, while Thursday will also see Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox hold “detailed discussions” with Barnier in Brussels.

The stumbling block has been the Irish backstop, which provides for Britain to remain in the EU customs union until a way is found — such as a future free trade deal — to ensure that Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland remains open.

Brexiteers in the Conservative party warn that Britain may be trapped in the bloc indefinitely, and have demanded a time limit or exit clause. — AFP