Theresa May is seeking a compromise with Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit, a government minister has said as the prime minister reached out to Labour. 

But with just 46 days before Britain is set to leave the EU, Downing Street rejected any agreement being reached with the Labour leader over a customs unions – one of Mr Corbyn’s central demands.

Referring to a letter sent by Ms May to Mr Corbyn, justice minister Rory Stewart said Ms May was seeking some sort of compromise, adding: “I think she feels, as I do that there isn’t actually as much dividing us from the Labour Party as some people suggest.” 

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Here is how we covered the day's events:

Theresa May to offer MPs new round of Brexit votes amid accusations she's 'running down the clock'

Theresa May has sought to buy herself time to secure concessions on her Brexitdeal by promising MPs a fresh round of votes before the end of February.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire said a new motion would be put before the Commons by February 27, if no deal has been agreed, in a bid to win the prime minister time to hammer out a compromise after MPs overwhelmingly rejected her plan last month.

MPs have been gearing up for a Valentine’s Day showdown, assuming Ms May is unable to present a revised deal to parliament by Wednesday, including a push by Labour to force her into a meaningful vote by the end of the month.

But in an effort to see off attempts to bind the government's hands, Downing Street is promising another opportunity to table amendments - which are likely to include measures aimed at taking a no-deal Brexit off the table - on February 27.

Theresa May reaches out to Labour over Brexit impasse amid government efforts to buy time

Theresa May has reached out to Labour for help with a critical issue with her Brexit plan as she pleads with MPs for extra time to secure a breakthrough.

The prime minister struck a conciliatory tone in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, where she invited Labour to help drum up alternatives to the divisive Irish backstop, which has proved a major stumbling block to getting a deal through the Commons.

But Ms May risked creating a fresh Tory rift by failing to explicitly rule out a customs union with the EU, amid warnings from rank-and-file Conservatives that such a move would amount to an “unforgivable betrayal”.

It comes after the Labour leader took many in Westminster by surprise when he wrote to Ms May laying out his terms for Labour to support a Brexit deal, which included a customs union and guarantees on workers’ rights.

Justice minister Rory Stewart has been speaking to Radio 4 Today's programme about Theresa May's letter to the Labour leader.
Asked if the PM was looking at some sort of compromise with the opposition leader, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Yes. I think she feels, as I do, that there isn't actually as much dividing us from the Labour Party as some people suggest."

Regarding Labour's stance on a customs union with the EU, Mr Stewart added: "On that there is a disagreement.

"The Prime Minister believes, as I believe, that a major economy like the United Kingdom shouldn't indefinitely be in a position where it is completely unable to create trade deals with other countries.

"So, what we are arguing in the letter is that we can achieve through the Withdrawal Agreement a great deal of what Jeremy Corbyn is interested in without taking away that option of having other trade deals."

Government departments need extra £11bn to end austerity, warns Institute for Fiscal Studies

Philip Hammond would need to find an additional £11bn for unprotected government departments to spare them from further austerity, according to the latest estimates from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

In last year’s November Budget the chancellor announced that “the era of austerity [is] finally coming to an end”.

But his overall fiscal plans still implied further cuts over the coming five years to a host of Whitehall departments, from the Home Office, to environment, to transport.

The IFS today estimates that preventing this additional squeeze taking place, on top of the substantial cuts imposed since 2010, would require the government to allocate these departments an additional £11bn in the forthcoming spending review, due later this year.


Multibillion foreign aid budget should be spent to advance Britain's 'political and commercial interests', Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson has backed calls for a huge de-facto cut in the foreign aid budget, saying the money should be spent in the UK’s “political and commercial interests”.

The £13.4bn pot should fund all peacekeeping work and world service broadcasting, a controversial report says – diverting much of its cash to the Ministry of Defence and the BBC.

And the aid target, enforced in law at 0.7 per cent of gross national income, should be reworked for the UK government’s own policy aims, beyond economic development in poor countries.

Mr Johnson threw his weight behind the proposals, put forward in a pamphlet by a backbench Tory MP, saying they “are hard to disagree with”.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson also told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Theresa May's letter: "It's clear that Jeremy Corbyn... he's done a complete U-turn.
"He now wants to frustrate Brexit very largely by staying in a permanent customs union."

On the Northern Ireland backstop, Mr Johnson said: "The argument is now about how to get out of the backstop. And how to make sure that the UK isn't locked in that prison of the customs union.

"I think that you would need to have a time limit."

After the Conservative MP Christopher Chope blocked a private members' bill on Friday on female genital mutilation, his Commons office has been decorated...
This is from the Sun's Hugo Gye.

At a speech in central London, the defence secretary Gavin Williamson, dismisses critics' suggestions that Britain is retreating in the world as it exits the European Union. He says the UK will build new alliances, and rekindle old ones.​

"We should be the nation people turn to when the world needs leadership," he says.


UK to send flagship aircraft carrier to disputed Pacific waters

The aircraft-carrier Queen Elizabeth, with two squadrons of F-35 stealth fighters on board, will be sent into disputed waters in the Pacific in a display of “hard power”, the defence secretary is due to announce in a major speech on Britain’s military strategy in the post-Brexit world.

Gavin Williamson will declare the UK “may have to intervene” in future to confront aggression from countries like Russia and China who “flout international law” and are “resurgent” in rebuilding their armed forces.

Britain and its western allies have to be ready “to use hard power to support our interests”, the defence secretary is due to say in an address at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) in London on Monday. “We have to be ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour, ready to strengthen our resilience.” 

Labour MP David Lammy, a high-profile supporter of the People's Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: "Theresa May's letter makes it clear there is no hope of her agreeing for the UK to stay in a permanent customs union or to guarantee alignment with the EU on rights and protections after Brexit, as Jeremy Corbyn had requested.

"The prime minister will only consider a withdrawal deal vague enough to avoid settling any of the key questions about our future relationship with the EU. This may be the only way she can placate ERG (European Research Group) hardliners and keep the Tory Party together, but it is not good enough for the country.

"The economy and tens of thousands of jobs are at risk, as well as workers', consumers' and environmental protections. The Labour Party cannot consider backing this form of blindfold Brexit. It is antithetical to our values and our purpose as a party.

"We have now entered the emergency zone of these negotiations, and the prime minister has swept Labour's only other option off the table. We have now got to begin campaigning for a People's Vote."

A group of Conservative MPs - Right to Vote - have today written to the prime minister requesting an urgent meeting. They are all supporters of a Final Say referendum. 
"In the Conservative party we have a proud democratic and pragmatic tradition. We must follow this. The fear of delay should not box us into a corner so that the country leaves with the worst possible outcome. We should take enough time to resolve this impasse. We would be grateful for an urgent meeting with you to discuss this option. We appreciate the many pressures on your diary at this time, but we are aware that over the past few months you have met with pro-Brexit MPs on a number of occasions. We hope you feel that the voice of patriotic, pragmatic Conservatives is also worth listening to. Given the urgency of this issue as we head towards further votes in Parliament, we should be grateful if you could confirm to us this week if a meeting will be possible."
Here is the letter
Theresa May will make a Brexit statement on Tuesday in the House of Commons, a spokesman for the prime minister has just told a briefing of journalists in Wednesday. 
Though don't expect anything significant tomorrow in the statement - given no breakthrough has been achieved in Brussels in the negotiations. Expect it rather to be a state of the play update with the PM laying another neutral motion, giving MPs the chance once more to vote on Brexit-related amendments in the chamber, on Valentine's Day. 
Interesting report here from our Europe Correspondent, Jon Stone.

Anti-EU populists set to win enough seats in European elections to gain influence and ‘paralyse’ bloc

European Council on Foreign Relations warns far-right could do well enough to bring about 'a qualitative change' in EU
At the Downing Street briefing, a spokesman for the prime minister was also asked about Theresa May's letter to Jeremy Corbyn. On a customs union they said: "We are absolutely clear on this: we're not considering Jeremy Corbyn's customs proposals: we're not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. 
"We must have our own, independent trade policy."
This goes further than the letter sent to Mr Corbyn overnight by the prime minister - explicitly dismissing one of the Labour leader's key demands. 


UK economy shrinks 0.4% as Brexit uncertainty bites

The UK economy shrank by 0.4 per cent in December amid deepening uncertainty about the country’s future after Brexit. Analysts had predicted zero growth for the month.

The latest official data showed GDP suffered a sharp slowdown during the final three months of 2018, expanding by just 0.2 per cent between October and December, down from 0.6 per cent in the previous three months.

Annual growth dropped to a six-year low of 1.4 per cent in 2018, with economists warning the slowdown would likely continue into this year unless a Brexit deal is agreed.

International trade secretary Liam Fox has warned that Labour proposals for a customs union with the EU are "not workable".

"Of course we always want to work with the opposition but the opposition has put forward some ideas that are not workable," he told reporters in Bern at the signing of a new trade deal with Switzerland.

"The idea that you can have a customs union with the EU and at the same time, as an outside country, have an effect on EU trade policy is to not understand the EU treaties.

"It is very clear from the European Union that non-EU members do not have a say in EU trade policy so to pretend that you could do so is a dangerous delusion."

Theresa May's official spokesman said the first deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth will be in 2021 with the full details agreed by the Prime Minister in due course.

Asked whether the Defence Secretary's comments referred to China, the PM's spokesman said: "In relation to China, I think we have set out areas where we have concerns - such as around cyber-intrusions against the UK and our allies. But it is also a country with which we have a strong and constructive relationship."

Labour MPs demand Corbyn answer claim he cut line about second Brexit referendum from letter to May

Labour leader's office alleged to have agreed the letter should support a fresh referendum, if his compromise was rejected – only to omit the sentence at the last minute
This is from ITV's Daniel Hewitt on an attempt to hand in a second referendum petition from a Labour MP to the party's HQ.... which didn't go according to plan.
In response, a Labour Party source says: "For the safety and security of staff members, the Labour Party does not accept hand-delivered petitions. Anyone who informs us of an intention to do so is asked to send it through electronically."
They added this message was communicated to Angela Smith last week.


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