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Cabinet agrees not to kill off Brexit compromise talks

Ministers have agreed not to kill off Brexit compromise talks with Labour, according to Downing Street.

Theresa May's spokesman said a high-stakes meeting of the cabinet saw them debate compromises they could hand to the opposition.

He added that a "whole range of issues" were raised – including a customs union with the EU.

UK EU
Image: The government said it wanted to wrap up talks before the summer break

It was described by Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell as absolutely key to backing an EU divorce deal to help it pass through parliament.

But 13 former senior ministers warned Mrs May earlier in the day that she would split the Conservatives by capitulating to the demand.

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Number 10 could not say how long the talks would last, but Mrs May's spokesman insisted "we need to get on with this" and pass the law paving the way for Brexit before MPs go on their summer break.

He also denied the prime minister's chief Brexit advisor was in Brussels to ask the EU for changes to the future relationship half of the deal.

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But speaking simultaneously at a Wall Street Journal event, Mr McDonnell talked down the immediate prospect of a compromise being struck.

"We haven't seen the significant shift yet that we require to be able to support a deal," he said.

"We are not near what we want…

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell
Image: John McDonnell said: 'We are not near what we want'

"Our big problem now is, if we are going to march our troops in Parliament to the top of the hill to vote for a deal and that's then overturned within weeks, I think that would be a cataclysmic act of bad faith."

Earlier, Nigel Evans, a Tory MP who sits on the executive of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, called the talks a "cosmetic exercise".

He told Sky News that accepting a customs union would "risk losing the middle-ground completely".

Britain is on track to leave the EU by 31 October, or earlier if Mrs May can get a Brexit deal ratified before then.

The UK may have to hold EU Parliament elections
Image: The UK will hold EU Parliament elections next Thursday

Because of this delay it will elect a new cohort of MEPs to the European Parliament next Thursday.

Mrs May's EU divorce deal failed three times to pass in the Commons and she subsequently sought two delays to Brexit to avoid a no-deal exit.

She called for a "national unity" approach and asked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for talks six weeks ago.

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