PM may be set for turn­ing on vote


Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May is said to “be in lis­ten­ing mode’’ in­clud­ing pos­si­bly de­fer­ring Tues­day’s key vote on her Brexit with­drawal bill, as her ex­ec­u­tive scram­bles to find a way to avoid a loss bill that could bring down the gov­ern­ment.

The EU has been con­sid­er­ing whether to of­fer an ex­ten­sion to the Treaty of Rome’s Ar­ti­cle 50 and move the March 29 Brexit dead­line, but this has so far been re­jected by Mrs May.

“She has been very clear we are not ex­tend­ing Ar­ti­cle 50,” Down­ing Street said yes­ter­day.

The Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, which gives Mrs May’s Con­ser­va­tive party con­trol of the House of Com­mons, was hor­ri­fied at dis­cov­er­ing the true ex­tent of the back­stop im­pli­ca­tions for North­ern Ire­land, fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of the cab­i­net Brexit ad­vice from At­tor­ney­Gen­eral Ge­of­frey Cox.

The full ad­vice from Mr Cox that the gov­ern­ment was forced to ta­ble on Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing found in con­tempt of par­lia­ment the pre­vi­ous day said the coun­try would be tied “in­def­i­nitely in the back­stop and would en­dure in­def­i­nitely un­til a suc­ceeded agree­ment took place’’.

The planned deal would im­pose Cus­toms reg­u­la­tions be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Bri­tain and leave North­ern Ire­land ex­posed to be­ing tied to the EU if the rest of Bri­tain di­verged away.

DUP lead­ers said they would vote against the Brexit bill, but would re­store the gov­ern­ment’s num­bers to gov­ern if par­lia­ment re­jected the deal. The clear im­pli­ca­tion is that if Mrs May im­prob­a­bly gets her bill passed the DUP will side with Labour and suc­cess­fully ef­fect a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion and even­tu­ally force a gen­eral elec­tion. The DUP’s hos­til­ity to the Brexit deal has forced a re­think at the high­est lev­els of the Tory party.

At least three cab­i­net mem­bers and chief Tory whip Ju­lian Smith have been push­ing for a de­lay in the vote to al­low time to con­vince Tory rebels to swing be­hind Mrs May so that the ex­tent of her de­feat is some­what palat­able. If she loses by any­thing less than 30 it will em­bolden her to go to Brus­sels and try to rene­go­ti­ate some tweaks to the deal. A loss by more than 100 would bring on a lead­er­ship chal­lenge.

But Mrs May’s sweet­en­ers to her col­leagues, in­clud­ing of­fer­ing them seats on a com­mit­tee to ne­go­ti­ate the trade deal with the EU, have had no im­pact. There is so lit­tle con­fi­dence Bri­tain and the EU will have ne­go­ti­ated a trade deal in time to avoid the back­stop that the is­sues of sovereignty have cal­ci­fied views.

An­other plan en­sur­ing par­lia­ment has a say on whether to en­ter the back­stop is seen as a fudge. And so far the EU lead­ers have shown no will­ing­ness to ad­just the deal. The EU may con­sider it a bet­ter op­tion to sit back and al­low the Bri­tish par­lia­ment to push for a no-deal Brexit or a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox warned that politi­cians could stop Brexit if the deal didn’t pass.

“(There is) a real dan­ger that the House of Com­mons, which has a nat­u­ral Re­main ma­jor­ity, may at­tempt to steal Brexit from the Bri­tish peo­ple. Which I think would be a demo­cratic af­front,” Dr Fox told the Com­mons.

The Scot­tish Na­tion­al­ist Party leader at West­min­ster, Ian Black­ford, told par­lia­ment that Mrs May had con­cealed facts and in­ad­ver­tently mis­led the House of Com­mons in re­gards to the Ir­ish back­stop.

Mrs May re­sponded: “We have not con­cealed the facts from this house … we have very clearly set out the le­gal po­si­tion.”

But DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the re­lease of the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral’s ad­vice was “dev­as­tat­ing’’. “The events of re­cent days have ex­posed the gov­ern­ment,’’ he said.

Tory MP Zac Gold­smith said if Mrs May won’t rene­go­ti­ate with the EU, then an­other prime min­is­ter should do it. He also has warned of a rise in ex­trem­ist pol­i­tics if the par­lia­ment failed to hon­our the ref­er­en­dum re­sult.

“Fail­ure to hon­our the ref­er­en­dum would surely cause an ir­repara­ble break­down in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and the au­thor­i­ties,’’ he said.

“It would usher in a new era of ex­treme pol­i­tics.”

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