Local elections: Senior Tories urge compromise on Brexit

Matt Hancock and Ruth Davidson have called on MPs to work together to "get Brexit sorted"
Matt Hancock and Ruth Davidson have called on MPs to work together to “get Brexit sorted”

Senior Conservatives have urged Tory MPs to compromise with Labour to ensure Brexit is delivered, in the wake of the party’s dismal local election results.

The Tories suffered their worst result since 1995, losing 1,334 councillors in England.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was clear the public wanted “to see the issue of Brexit resolved”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the party needed to listen to the results and be “in the mood for compromise”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock said the nation wanted MPs to “get on, deliver Brexit, and then move on”.

Both Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have insisted they will push ahead with talks seeking cross-party agreement on leaving the EU.

Elections were held on Thursday for 248 English councils, six mayors, and all 11 councils in Northern Ireland – where counting continues.No elections took place in Scotland or Wales.

Labour failed to make expected gains in the elections, instead losing 82 seats, while the Liberal Democrats benefited from Tory losses, gaining 703 seats. The Greens and independents also made gains.

Meanwhile, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said Mrs May must announce her departure “very soon” in the wake of the party’s heavy losses – referring to her as a “caretaker PM”.

If she did not go, the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs would have to force her to do so, he said.

He said trying to find a Brexit deal with Labour was absurd and many Conservatives would refuse to back it.

Difficult first steps’

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson echoed Mr Hancock as she reflected on the Conservatives’ and Labour Party’s “almighty kicking” in the local elections.

“The solution doesn’t lie in the trenches of one extreme or another – of overturning the referendum, or of crashing out with no deal,” said Ms Davidson, who was speaking at the Scottish Conservatives conference in Aberdeen.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson warned the parties would suffer the wrath of voters in the EU elections unless they “get Brexit sorted”

“It lies in those colleagues currently round the table taking the difficult first steps towards each other.

“So I say to the negotiating teams of our party and the Labour Party, who are currently locked in talks – get Brexit sorted, get a deal over the line and let Britain move on.”

Theresa May on local election results: “Simple message… just get on and deliver Brexit”

The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March, but the deadline has been pushed back to 31 October after Parliament was unable to agree a way forward.

Mr Hancock said the Tories might have to move towards Labour’s proposal of a permanent customs union – in order to solve the impasse in Westminster.

Being part of the EU customs union means that once goods have cleared customs in one country and the commonly agreed tariffs (charges on imports) have been paid, they can be moved to other countries in the union without further charges.

A country does not have to be a member of the EU to be part of the customs union – but members cannot negotiate their own independent trade deals with countries from the rest of the world.

Mrs May’s government has previously ruled out remaining in a customs union after the UK leaves the EU, arguing it would prevent the UK from setting its own trade policy.

Labour has suggested the EU may show flexibility over the issue and allow the UK “a say” in future trade deals.

Mr Hancock suggested “coming up with something in-between”, and called for “an open dialogue in which we can make an agreement”.

‘Find a solution’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there was a “glimmer of hope” that a compromise between the Conservative and Labour “core-voters” could be reached.

“If we can find a solution that delivers the benefits of the customs union without signing up to the current arrangements, then I think there will be potential,” he said.

He added that while he supported the withdrawal deal reached between the EU and Mrs May, there might be things that could be done to make it “more acceptable” to Labour without compromising on the “things that we think are essential”.

But he also warned that a customs union would not be a “long-term solution”.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove called on MPs to back Mrs May’s deal – which has been rejected by Parliament three times.

He said “democracy demands” that MPs should vote in favour of the deal, and he urged politicians from all parties to “unite to respect the referendum result”.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said cabinet ministers were currently placing more importance on the next Conservative leadership contest than Brexit.

The Labour frontbencher said Mr Hunt’s remarks provided “yet more evidence” that many in the cabinet believed the “most important thing right now” was the race to be Mrs May’s successor.