Will the cross-party Brexit talks ever end? They seem to have been going on for almost as long as the negotiations to get Britain out of the European Union, and with a similar lack of anything for either side to boast about. Yesterday, David Lidington said he was ‘encouraged by the sense in the room today about the need to inject greater urgency into this’, which was read by some as a sign that a breakthrough might be imminent. This seems a rather hopeful reading of what is essentially an admission that everyone has been faffing around a lot, but members of the Labour negotiating team also believe the government might shift on some of its red lines.
Lidington updated the cabinet on the talks when it met today. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said after the meeting:
‘Cabinet received an update on the Brexit talks with the opposition, including the negotiations last night, which were serious and constructive. Further talks will now be scheduled in order to bring the process towards a conclusion.’
The question is whether a conclusion will involve an agreement between the two parties on some kind of Brexit deal that would get through Parliament. There is a suspicion among both Tory and Labour MPs that the talks are a charade merely giving the pretence that both sides are acting seriously, without ever really wanting to compromise on matters that would split their parties internally.
Those involved in the talks insist that they aren’t just going through the motions, and have indeed been surprised by how well people have got on with one another. This probably won’t cheer many Tory MPs up, though, as they are still frustrated that their party calls Jeremy Corbyn a risk to national security yet wants to use him to get a softer Brexit through parliament. They’d rather the talks involved people shouting at one another a little more than they have. And that points to the big problem that Theresa May is facing as her party heads towards the European elections: if she secures a cross-party deal that means she can say she stopped Britain ‘crashing out’ of the European Union, she knows she will leave little to be proud of in her own party.