British Prime Minister Theresa May faced renewed pressure yesterday from lawmakers in her Conservative Party to abandon efforts to seek a Brexit compromise deal with the opposition Labor Party.
After several weeks of fruitless negotiations, senior Conservative and Labor lawmakers resumed discussions in what appears to be one final push to reach an agreement. With the clock ticking down before European elections, when both parties could face more bruising results after local polls last week, time is running out.
The talks have been given new urgency by last week’s local elections, which saw the Conservatives hammered and Labor also lose ground as voters expressed anger at the country’s Brexit impasse. Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, the date and terms of Brexit remain uncertain. The U.K.’s departure date has been postponed from March 29 until Oct. 31 because lawmakers have repeatedly rejected May’s divorce deal with the bloc. That has led her to seek a deal with Labor. But the left-of-center opposition party insists it will only agree to a Brexit deal that includes a permanent customs union with the EU to avoid barriers to the trade of goods.
The government wants a looser relationship with the bloc that would let Britain strike new trade deals around the world. PM May has said she will step down once a Brexit deal has been ratified, but it’s unclear when, or even if, that will happen. With both parties, like much of the country, deeply divided over Brexit, any breakthrough might be hard to come by. Neither party wants to contest the elections to the European Parliament on May 23, when they fear voters will again punish them by voting for alternative parties after showing their frustration at local elections last week. Conservative Brexit supporters might flock to the newly launched Brexit Party of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, while Labor pro-EU campaigners might look to Change UK, another new party, or support the Liberal Democrats.