The Prime Minister’s move will be seen as an olive branch as she desperately seeks backing for her pact after its crushing Commons defeat last month.
The Tory leader is set to deny MPs a fresh “meaningful vote” until next month – edging closer to the March 29 withdrawal deadline.
Appealing to Labour MPs through their leader, Mrs May told Jeremy Corbyn on workers’ rights: “In the interests of building support across the House, we are … prepared to commit to asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas.”
The revelation came in a reply she sent the Labour chief after he wrote to the PM last week demanding a customs union as the price for supporting a deal.
Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss refused to rule out quitting the Cabinet if Mrs May bowed to demands for a customs union.
While she did not completely rule one out, the PM said the political declaration part of the withdrawal agreement “explicitly provides for the benefit of a customs union” while allowing the UK to strike deals with other countries.
She added: “We intend to give Parliament a bigger say in the mandate for the next phase of the negotiations”.
Mrs May faces a string of Valentine’s Day votes which could derail her Brexit timetable.
She stands accused of trying to run down the clock before presenting a revamped package to MPs, possibly just days before the UK is due to leave the EU.
Labour will try to force ministers to stage the final, “meaningful vote” by February 26.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire admitted MPs may not get a vote on a revised pact this month, but claimed there could be more votes on amendments to the proposed deal instead.
He told the BBC: “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then Parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than February 27.”
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer demanded a vote before February 26 to put a “hard stop” to Mrs May “running down the clock”.
He fears the PM is “pretending to make progress” but secretly plans to return to Parliament after a Brussels summit the week before Brexit and offer MPs a “binary choice” between her deal or no deal.
“We can’t allow that to happen,” Sir Keir told the Sunday Times.
“There needs to be a day when Parliament says, ‘That’s it, enough is enough’.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay meets EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Strasbourg on Monday as the Government tries to thrash out plans to overhaul the backstop.
The insurance policy is designed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic if there is no deal on a future UK-EU relationship.
Tony Blair warned a no-deal Brexit would lead to a “really hard border” and could be “devastating” for the peace process.
Business chiefs sounded the latest alarm as the clock ticks towards March 29.
CBI boss Carolyn Fairbairn told Sky News: “I think we really are in the emergency zone of Brexit now.”
Full text of Theresa May’s letter to Jeremy Corbyn
Thank you for your letter of 6 February. It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honours our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum. My visit to Northern Ireland this week underlined to me what is at stake.
In that light, I am grateful to you for meeting me last week, for your letter setting out your position in more detail and for the offer of further discussions. Whilst the issues you raised in your letter are best dealt with in those discussions, I thought it would be helpful to briefly set out our position in writing.
When we met, you outlined your concerns about the possible indefinite nature of the backstop, concerns which you repeated publicly afterwards. I hope you will therefore agree with me that seeking alternative arrangements to the current backstop is a necessary step to finding a deal that can command support in Parliament. One of the things I would like our teams to discuss is the exact nature of those alternative arrangements.
However, this is not the only action the Government is taking to find a deal that commands support in Parliament. We intend to give Parliament a bigger say in the mandate for the next phase of the negotiations to address concerns that – because the Political Declaration cannot be legally binding and, in some areas, provides for a spectrum of outcomes – MPs cannot be sure precisely what future relationship it would lead to. We have also made commitments on workers’ rights and environmental protections and we are examining opportunities to provide further financial support to communities that feel left behind.
Turning to the changes to the Political Declaration you would like to see:
As I explained when we met, the Political Declaration explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union – no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors and no checks on rules of origin (paragraph 23). However, it also recognises the development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU (paragraph 17). I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals? I can reassure you that securing frictionless trade in goods and agri-food products is one of our key negotiating objectives (for precisely the reasons you give – protecting jobs that depend on integrated supply chains and avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland). The fundamental negotiating challenge here is the EU’s position that completely frictionless trade is only possible if the UK stays in the single market. This would mean accepting free movement, which Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto made clear you do not support.
The EU have said that the deal provides for the closest relationship possible outside the single market. The Political Declaration sets out clear arrangements for dispute resolution (paragraphs 132-135). I am not sure what exactly you mean when you say “shared institutions and obligations” but our teams can explore that.
I have always been clear that Brexit should not be at the expense of workers’ rights or environmental protections. However, the Government does not support automatically following EU rules in these areas because, given their importance, we believe these decisions should be taken in our Parliament by our elected representatives. We have, however, made legally-binding commitments to no regression in these areas if we were to enter the backstop (Annex 4 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement), intend to build on these commitments in the future relationship (paragraph 79 of the Political Declaration) and are prepared to consider legislating to give these commitments force in UK law. In the interests of building support across the House, we are also prepared to commit to asking Parliament whether it wishes to follow suit whenever the EU changes its standards in these areas. And of course we don’t need to automatically follow EU standards in order to lead the way – as we have done in the past under both Conservative and Labour Governments.
The Government supports participation in EU programmes in a number of areas as set out in paragraph 11 of the Political Declaration. We also want the closest possible relationship with EU agencies in the heavily regulated sectors, subject to us being outside the single market, and such co-operation is reflected as a shared aim in paragraph 24 of the Political Declaration.
The Government shares your ambition in relation to security arrangements. We have secured agreement on the exchange of Passenger Name Record, DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data (paragraph 86 of the Political Declaration) and on arrangements akin to the European Arrest Warrant to surrender suspected and convicted persons efficiently and expeditiously (paragraph 89) as well as a commitment to consider the exchange of data on wanted or missing persons or objects and criminal records (paragraph 87). The negotiating challenge here is the EU’s position that, as a third country outside of the Schengen area and without free movement, there are restrictions on the UK’s ability to participate in some EU tools and measures. The Government does not believe it would be in the interests of either the UK or the EU and its Member States to see a reduction in joint security capabilities. Labour’s support for this position going into the next phase will I hope send a powerful signal that the EU should reconsider its stance.
I look forward to our teams meeting as soon as possible.