August 17, 2019 / 9:29 AM / a month ago

Senior UK Conservative lawmaker says he could not back Corbyn-led government

LONDON (Reuters) - A Conservative lawmaker at the centre of efforts to block a no-deal Brexit said on Saturday he was pessimistic about his chances because he and other party colleagues could not support a caretaker government led by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

FILE PHOTO: British Conservative MP Oliver Letwin speaks in the Parliament in London, Britain April 3, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal by Oct. 31, anti-Brexit politicians from all sides have been trying, and so far failing, to agree on a plan to stop it from happening.

Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, wants a caretaker government with himself as head, and then an election.

But other opponents of a no-deal Brexit worry that Corbyn, a staunch leftist, would not win enough support, prompting leaders of smaller parties to put forward their own suggestions as to who could lead a government long enough to delay Brexit.

Oliver Letwin, a lawmaker from Johnson’s ruling Conservatives, was asked to lend his support to Corbyn this week, but he told BBC Radio on Saturday: “I don’t think it’s at all likely that a majority would be formed for that and I wouldn’t be able to support that, no.”

Asked to explain why, he said even an interim Corbyn-led government could do more damage than a disorderly exit from the world’s biggest trading bloc.

Conservative opponents of a no-deal Brexit are deeply suspicious of Corbyn, whom they see as a dangerous Marxist intent on nationalising swathes of British industry and hiking state spending and taxes.

AGREEMENT ELUSIVE

“It’s well worth having discussions with everybody across the House because there’s probably a majority of MPs (Members of Parliament) who don’t want to have a no-deal exit but the issue is can we get all of those MPs on some alternative proposition?

“I’m not terribly optimistic about all this because I don’t see yet emerging an agreement on that,” he said.

To form a new parliamentary majority with cross-party backing, Letwin said lawmakers would first have to agree a strategy for Brexit, revealing the divisions that have hampered pro-EU politicians since they lost the 2016 referendum.

While some accept the result and want a negotiated withdrawal from the bloc to soften the economic impact, others are pushing for a second referendum in the hope of reversing the 2016 vote to leave the EU.

“There is a high likelihood, alas, that this country is going to leave without a deal on the 31st of October,” Letwin said.

Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Gareth Jones

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