Theresa May has made a surprise offer of Brexit talks with Jeremy Corbyn after surviving his attempt to topple her government.
The prime minister invited the leaders of the main opposition parties for immediate talks on how to resolve the Brexit impasse after her exit deal was rejected by a record 230 votes on Tuesday night.
It came after Tory Brexiteer rebels and the DUP rallied behind her to see off a no-confidence vote from Corbyn by 325 votes to 306, a majority of 19.
But the cross-party offer was immediately thrown into doubt as Corbyn demanded the PM rules out a no-deal Brexit before substantive discussions can begin, a call Downing Street appeared to refuse.
May and her team of ministers will also hold talks with rival factions around parliament in the coming days, including senior Labour ‘soft’ Brexit backers including Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, as well as Tory Brexiteers.
The clock is ticking to find a solution with May due to set out her alternative plan for EU withdrawal to MPs on January 21, when she risks losing control of the Brexit process as MPs will be able to table amendments setting out alternatives to her approach, such as a second referendum or a ‘Norway-style’ relationship with the EU.
May pledged to approach the talks “in a constructive spirit” and urged other parties to do the same, telling the Commons: “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House.”
She said: “The House has put its confidence in this government.
“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit and ensure that this House retains the confidence of the British people.”
Corbyn responded: “Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the Government must remove clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.”
May’s official spokesman appeared to reject Corbyn’s demand to rule out no-deal, telling reporters: “The prime minister has been very clear that the British public voted to leave the European Union.
“We want to leave with a deal but she is determined to deliver on the verdict of the British public and that is to leave the EU on March 29 this year.”
A senior Downing Street source said May remained committed to securing an “independent trade policy” after Brexit, effectively ruling out a customs union with the EU which Labour, other opposition parties and several Tory Remainers back.
May’s offer of one-to-one talks was extended to SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, and Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts.
Corbyn meanwhile will come under intensifying pressure to back a second referendum. Labour passed a motion at its autumn conference making clear that forcing an election is the priority, but if it is not possible the party would back all remaining options, including another EU vote.
In a sign that the Labour leader is wary of a so-called people’s vote, senior party figures indicated he was ready to table repeated no-confidence challenges and therefore stall the process by which he could be forced to back another referendum.
However, 71 Labour MPs have called for Corbyn to “unequivocally” back a second referendum now that his no-confidence motion has failed.