Theresa May has promised to set out a “new and improved” Brexit deal next month as she tries to stitch together a cross-party coalition of MPs to pass her EU withdrawal treaty at the fourth attempt.
The UK prime minister’s “bold offer” is expected to include new proposals to uphold EU standards of workers’ rights and environmental protection to win over some Labour MPs, even though formal cross-party talks collapsed without a deal last week.
Mrs May is also holding renewed talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to see whether she can overcome their opposition to a Brexit deal.
Downing Street said the prime minister was looking to reassure the DUP — which notionally provides Mrs May with her majority in parliament — over elements of the treaty’s “backstop” plans to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. The DUP is fiercely opposed to the backstop, since it would treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.
But the new proposals, to be set out when the Withdrawal Agreement bill is published, will not include a confirmatory referendum, demanded by scores of Labour MPs as the price for their support.
Mrs May has also — so far at least — refused to meet Labour’s demands for a permanent customs union, a policy which is opposed by many Eurosceptic members of her cabinet and a large number of Tory MPs.
The decisive second reading vote on the bill is scheduled for the week starting June 3 and is seen as the last throw of the dice for the prime minister; few MPs at Westminster expect the outgoing prime minister to succeed where she has failed three times before.
If the bill is not passed, the default position is that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 without a deal, although a new Tory prime minister is expected to go to Brussels to try to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s exit. Brussels has insisted that the withdrawal treaty text cannot be reopened.
In an article in the Sunday Times, Mrs May said she would “not be simply asking MPs to think again” on the same deal that they have repeatedly rejected — but on “an improved packaged of measures that I believe can win new support”.
Mrs May said she wanted MPs to look at the proposals “with fresh pairs of eyes — and to give it their support”. The Commons has previously rejected her Brexit deal by margins of 230, 149 and 58 votes.