Sunday, March 24, 2019 | ePaper
May faces heavy Brexit defeat in parliament, eurosceptics warn
Reuters, London :
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave church, near High Wycombe, Britain on Sunday.
British Prime Minster Theresa May's Brexit deal faces a heavy defeat in parliament on Tuesday because she has so far secured no major changes from the European Union, the leaders of two major eurosceptic factions in parliament said on Sunday.
Just 19 days before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, May's is scrambling - so far unsuccessfully - to secure last-minute changes to an EU exit agreement before a vote on Tuesday on whether to approve the deal.
If she fails, lawmakers are expected to force May to seek a delay to Brexit that some fear could see the 2016 decision to leave the bloc reversed. Others argue that without a delay Britain faces chaos if it leaves without a deal on March 29.
Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up May's minority government, and Steve Baker, a leading figure in the large eurosceptic faction of her Conservative party, warned "the political situation is grim".
"An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons," they wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
The Sunday Times said May was battling to save her job as aides were considering persuading her to offer to resign in a bid to get the deal approved. The newspaper also said cabinet ministers have spoken about whether to insist she goes as early as this week.
Parliament rejected May's deal by a record margin in January, prompting the British leader to return to Brussels in search of changes to address the so-called Irish backstop - an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Many British lawmakers object to the policy on the grounds that it could leave Britain subject to EU rules indefinitely and cleave Northern Ireland away from the rest of the country.
But, May's attempts to get the clause rewritten have so far failed to yield any result, with EU negotiators unwilling to meet her demands, and Britain rejecting a compromise offer.
Britain's opposition Labour Party should support staying in the EU if there is a second referendum, the party's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said on Sunday. "If there's a public vote that would operate as a lock, if you like, on any deal that Theresa May get through. If that is the position, then in my view, the default ought to be 'remain'," Starmer told Sky News.
However, Starmer said the party would not be seeking to secure support in parliament for a second referendum on Tuesday.
EU leaders have rejected her demands, however, and talks between British and EU officials have failed to secure a breakthrough. If they fail to approve a deal and if no extension is negotiated, Britain would have to leave the European Union after 46 years of membership on March 29, causing huge disruption on both sides.
Discussions at official level continued this weekend on some kind of legal guarantees that might persuade MPs to back the deal. May is poised to make a last-minute visit herself if needed.
But few expect any major concessions before Tuesday's vote, and the prime minister instead has sought to remind MPs of the stakes involved.
She warned in a speech Friday that rejecting her deal again would create a "moment of crisis". "Back it and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it and no one knows what will happen," she said.
"We may not leave the EU for many months. We may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all."
A threatened cabinet revolt over the risks of a no-deal Brexit forced May to agree that, if her deal is defeated again, MPs will be able to vote on both a "no deal" option or a delay to Brexit this week.
Â·Speaking in Grimsby, a North Sea fishing port that voted to leave the EU
in the 2016 referendum, May asked Brussels for "one more push" to get an agreement.
"The decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote," she said.
Their talks are focused on the so-called backstop, an arrangement in the Brexit deal intended to keep open the Irish border.
It would keep Britain in the EU's customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way - such as a trade deal - is found to avoid frontier checks.
Many MPs fear a trap to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral way out of the arrangement.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier repeated on Friday that the bloc could offer a legally binding statement confirming the backstop was only meant to be temporary.
Speaking to reporters after May's speech, he added: "We are not interested in the blame game, we are interested in the result."