Will the cross-party talks get anywhere this week?
No 10 is trying to get Labour over the line by presenting the withdrawal agreement as a stepping stone – ie hold your nose for now and you can carve out your own deal if you win the next election.
Key to that is the promise of a ‘temporary customs union’ – Labour sources warn if that’s all it is, that’s what’s already in the withdrawal agreement anyway (plus a few months) and doesn’t add up to anything substantially new.
A senior government source says it IS possible though to see a way to a deal, but it is unlikely to be resolved this week – and their aim is not to create some kind of May-Corbyn Rose Garden moment (imagine!) but to set out a path to get the Withdrawal Bill to Commons with a fair wind.
What then? Well, the hope is to get the bill to committee stage where MPs would make decisions day by day – it’s important to understand that’s where Number 10 hopes this might be heading – with maybe more of a process to get sustainable buy-in from the Labour front bench than carving a deal in stone.
Of course, the clouds over Theresa May’s leadership also make it harder by the day to get anything agreed. A Labour source says: “We are not just worried about this being ripped up in 2021, we’re worried about it being ripped up in October 2019.”
There is added momentum to talks because the Tories are fresh from an absolute hammering in council elections on Friday. Labour had a terrible night too.
But that bit of fresh impetus doesn’t magic away the real problems they have to overcome if there’s to be a deal.