May warns Brex­i­teers of EU trap

MPs are duty-bound to im­ple­ment the will of the peo­ple

The Australian - - WORLD - KATE DEVLIN LON­DON

Theresa May was to launch a last­ditch ap­peal to Brex­i­teers to back her last night, warn­ing them that stay­ing in the EU was now more likely than their pre­ferred op­tion of leav­ing with no deal.

The British Prime Min­is­ter will in­ten­sify the pres­sure on MPs with a speech in a pro-Leave seat, at­tempt­ing to limit her ex­pected de­feat when par­lia­ment votes on her with­drawal agree­ment to­mor­row. She will tell pro-Brexit MPs that last week’s West­min­ster drama showed they were likely to be out­flanked by mem­bers seek­ing to thwart Bri­tain’s exit al­to­gether.

House of Com­mons Speaker John Ber­cow in­fu­ri­ated the gov­ern­ment by agree­ing that MPs could vote on an amend­ment by Do­minic Grieve, a pro-Re­main Tory, forc­ing her to come back with a plan B within days of los­ing a first vote.

On Sun­day, there were claims that Re­main­ers were plot­ting a “coup” that would side­line the Prime Min­is­ter if she lost the crunch vote to­mor­row. Tory chief whip Ju­lian Smith was said to have briefed the Prime Min­is­ter that she could lose the abil­ity to gov­ern if the at­tempt to change Com­mons rules — so that mo­tions pro­posed by back­benchers can take prece­dence over gov­ern­ment busi­ness — suc­ceeded.

Brex­i­teers suggested, how­ever, that the idea was cooked up by 10 Down­ing Street to scare them.

As a cru­cial week for Mrs May be­gan:

EU sources said Brus­sels was pre­par­ing to grant Bri­tain an ex­ten­sion of the Ar­ti­cle 50 process, which could push Brexit day back by months.

MPs vowed to test par­lia­men­tary sup­port for an­other ref­er­en­dum this week.

Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn said Mrs May would face a no-con­fi­dence vote in her gov­ern­ment “soon” if she failed to get her deal through.

A cab­i­net min­is­ter re­peated warn­ings that Bri­tain would face a rise in po­lit­i­cal ex­trem­ism if MPs blocked Brexit.

Mrs May can take lim­ited com­fort in some MPs pub­licly con­vert­ing to her deal. Ed­ward Leigh, whom she ap­pointed to the Privy Coun­cil last month, and three other Tory Brex­i­teers backed it yes­ter­day. Kevin Bar­ron, a Re­main-sup­port­ing Labour MP, said he, too, would vote for the plan.

How­ever, these switches are un­likely to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the scale of the de­feat she is fac­ing, which could be one of the big­gest em­bar­rass­ments that a mod­ern gov­ern­ment has ex­pe­ri­enced.

In the speech to be given to fac­tory work­ers in Stoke-on-Trent last night, she says she be­lieves that it is more likely that MPs will block Brexit than Bri­tain will leave without an agree­ment.

She adds: “I ask MPs to con­sider the con­se­quences of their ac­tions on the faith of the British peo­ple in our democ­racy.

“What if we found our­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where par­lia­ment tried to take the UK out of the EU in op­po­si­tion to a Re­main vote? Peo­ple’s faith in the demo­cratic process and their politi­cians would suf­fer cat­a­strophic harm.”

Cab­i­net min­is­ters lined up to warn Brex­i­teers that they risked no Brexit after re­ports of Re­main­ers’ plots.

Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling, who made the com­ments about the coun­try fac­ing a rise in ex­trem­ism, said it would be a “huge mis­take” for MPs to at­tempt to take con­trol of the Brexit process. He con­firmed that mil­i­tary plan­ners from the Min­istry of De­fence were work­ing in vi­tal min­istries to help with no-deal con­tin­gen­cies.

Brexit Sec­re­tary Stephen Bar- clay said: “Those on the Brex­i­teer side seek­ing ide­o­log­i­cal pu­rity with a deal are risk­ing Brexit.”

Asked about Mrs May’s plan B, he said he strongly sus­pected that the Com­mons would end up vot­ing for some­thing “along the lines” of her present deal.

If it fails to­mor­row, the Grieve amend­ment re­quires Mrs May to bring back an al­ter­na­tive by next Mon­day. MPs are due to con­tinue their de­bate on the deal last night and tonight.

Nick Boles, his Tory col­league Caro­line Spel­man, Labour MP Jack Dromey and oth­ers are work­ing on par­lia­men­tary moves to rule out no-deal.

An­other group of MPs, in­clud­ing Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Vince Cable, Mr Grieve and Lab- our’s Chuka Umunna were to pub­lish draft leg­is­la­tion last night to set out how to achieve an­other ref­er­en­dum be­fore May.

The Lib­eral Democrats said they would at­tempt to bring for­ward a par­lia­men­tary vote on an­other ref­er­en­dum this week if Labour tabled a no-con­fi­dence vote, as it is ex­pected to do.

Mrs May was hop­ing to bol­ster her po­si­tion last night with writ­ten as­sur­ances from Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker on the Ir­ish back­stop. How­ever, any con­ces­sions are ex­pected to fall short of the de­mands of her back­benchers and the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party.

British democ­racy faces a stern test early to­mor­row in the cru­cial House of Com­mons vote on Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Brexit deal. With much of her Con­ser­va­tive Party against her, she ap­pears headed for de­feat. Polling also sug­gests that a ma­jor­ity of the 650 MPs, from nine par­ties large and small, would pre­fer not to see Bri­tain with­draw from the EU.

De­cid­ing the fate of Mrs May’s widely crit­i­cised deal is one thing. What must not be put at risk in the de­bate and what­ever fol­lows is Brexit it­self, which rep­re­sents the demo­cratic will of the British peo­ple, ex­pressed in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum. The House of Com­mons, which is due to pass judg­ment on Mrs May’s deal, voted in 2015 by 544-53 to hold the ref­er­en­dum in June 2016, which re­sulted in the solid vote in favour of Brexit. The Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment at the time, led by David Cameron, pledged to im­ple­ment what­ever de­ci­sion the peo­ple made.

In the sub­se­quent 2017 gen­eral elec­tion called by Mrs May, both the Con­ser­va­tives and the Labour Party promised un­equiv­o­cally to im­ple­ment the vot­ers’ Brexit man­date. The Tories’ man­i­festo de­clared “no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal”. What­ever the out­come of to­day’s vote, MPs on all sides must stand by their pledges and not try to re­nege on im­ple­ment­ing the will of the elec­torate.

An­a­lysts widely be­lieve a no-deal Brexit would not be in Bri­tain’s or the EU’s best in­ter­ests. But as eco­nomics ed­i­tor Adam Creighton has pointed out, Bri­tain has noth­ing to fear if that is what even­tu­ates. After two years of deep­en­ing uncer­tainty, mainly due to Mrs May’s poor han­dling of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and the de­struc­tive be­hav­iour of am­bi­tious hard­lin­ers within her own party, British MPs now face a choice be­tween her bad deal and a no-deal break with the EU. Rarely, in re­cent decades, has the House of Com­mons faced a de­ci­sion with more far-reach­ing con­se­quences for Bri­tain’s fu­ture. What­ever it de­cides, it must not be al­lowed to ob­vi­ate par­lia­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the Brexit that Bri­tons voted for is de­liv­ered. Any­thing less would make a mock­ery of British democ­racy.

AFP

Theresa May and hus­band Philip leave church near her Maiden­head con­stituency, west of Lon­don, at the week­end

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