Jeremy Corbyn has accused Theresa May of “blackmail” and “running down the clock”, after the prime minister said that she needed more time to continue talks with the EU.
Mrs May promised on Wednesday that MPs would be able to vote on a way forward on Brexit on February 27, if her government has failed to win approval for its exit deal with the EU before then.
Many MPs argue that Mrs May is increasing the chances of a no-deal Brexit by eating into the seven weeks remaining before the UK legally leaves the EU. Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader, said that the uncertainty meant that a recent decision by carmaker Nissan not to build a new model at its Sunderland plant could be the thin edge of the wedge.
Mrs May replied that she had negotiated her original deal with the EU before Christmas, and that Labour MPs had risked a no-deal Brexit by voting against it. She is seeking to change the legally-binding withdrawal agreement to answer Tory MPs’ concerns about the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid Irish border checks. But on Wednesday she again ruled out keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU, a key Labour demand.
Mrs May told MPs that, “as expected”, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had made clear the EU’s position of refusing to reopen the withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop. The two leaders would meet again “before the end of February”.
MPs will vote a government Brexit motion on Thursday, although both Europhiles and Eurosceptics are likely to hold their fire until Mrs May has had more time to renegotiate her deals with Brussels.
Mrs May is trying to win over backbench Labour MPs by promising to uphold workers’ rights after Brexit and to consult with trade unions. But Mr Corbyn took aim at the Conservatives’ record on workers’ rights, saying: “For many of them, ripping up rights is what Brexit is all about.”