UK Politics

Brexit: Conservatives and Labour continue talks

John McDonnell and Michael Gove arrive for talks Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Michael Gove and John McDonnell have been involved in the talks

The government and Labour have held further talks aimed at breaking the deadlock in Parliament over Brexit.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said discussions with cabinet ministers David Lidington and Michael Gove had been "positive" and "constructive".

He added that a timetable was being worked out for more meetings over the next seven to 10 days.

EU leaders have agreed to delay the UK's departure date from 12 April to 31 October, to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

But Prime Minister Theresa May has said the UK can still leave before 22 May, if Parliament backs the withdrawal agreement she reached with the EU.

This would avoid the UK having to take part in European Parliament elections, currently scheduled for 23 May.

The UK was originally due to leave the EU on 29 March, but its departure date has been delayed twice, after the Commons rejected the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU by large margins.

The meeting between Mr McDonnell, members of Jeremy Corbyn's staff and Mr Gove and Mr Lidington lasted just over an hour.

Asked if the government had moved on its "red lines", Mr McDonnell told reporters: "I'm not going into the detail of it.

"We are trying to be as constructive as we possibly can on all sides... but we will see by the end of next week how far we have got."

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Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

What's happened during the talks?

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson has been told that the Conservative and Labour delegations have discussed some of the fine detail of the potential changes to the "political declaration" - the non-legally binding part of the Brexit deal, which sets out a blueprint for future relations between the EU and UK.

But he said the two sides were still some way apart on customs arrangements.

Labour wants a new permanent customs union with the EU, which would allow tariff-free trade in goods.

The government has repeatedly ruled out remaining in the EU's customs union, arguing it would prevent the UK from setting its own trade policy.

Under EU rules, the UK will have to hold European Parliament elections in May, or face leaving on 1 June without a deal.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Chancellor Philip Hammond said: "Clearly nobody wants to fight the European elections.

"It feels like a pointless exercise and the only way we can avoid that is by getting a deal agreed and done quickly, and if we can do that by 22 May, we can avoid fighting the European parliamentary elections.

"In any case we want to ensure any British MEPs that are elected never have to take their seats in the European Parliament by ensuring this is all done well before the new European Parliament convenes."

Meanwhile, the government says it will "continue to make all necessary preparations" for a no-deal Brexit.

A government source said "plans will evolve and adapt", but would not stop while the chance of leaving the EU without an agreement remained.

The source said that a leaked message which reportedly referred to the "winding down" of no-deal preparation related only to Operation Yellowhammer - the contingency planning programme based on worst-case scenarios - and not no-deal planning in general.

But the government has confirmed it is stopping Operation Brock - the contraflow put on the London-bound carriageway of the M20 in Kent - "in light of the reduced threat of disruption to services across the English Channel in the coming weeks".

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