Un­der at­tack from all cor­ners

Theresa May will need a Plan B on Brexit as her pro­posal on how the UK should leave the EU looks set to be de­feated, writes Ellen Whinnett

The Courier-Mail - - INSIGHT -

THE United King­dom is headed for con­sti­tu­tional chaos, with Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Brexit plans set to be cat­e­gor­i­cally re­jected by the par­lia­ment this week. The so-called “mean­ing­ful vote’’ on how the UK should exit the EU will go to the House of Com­mons to­day (UK time), but is ex­pected to be de­feated by as many as 100 votes.

MPs have been run­ning a guer­rilla war all last week in West­min­ster and have suc­ceeded in forc­ing May to ta­ble her Plan B by Mon­day next week if her Bill gets thrown out as ex­pected.

What that Plan B might look like is still un­known, and May has spent the fi­nal days ahead of the vote in a last-ditch of­fen­sive try­ing to con­vince MPs to sup­port her orig­i­nal Bill.

In a speech to be de­liv­ered overnight, she warned Brex­i­teers – mainly her own party mem­bers de­ter­mined to bury her com­pro­mise deal in favour of a no-deal exit – that they could end up with no Brexit at all.

May’s 585-page with­drawal plan guar­an­tees the rights of EU cit­i­zens in the UK and British cit­i­zens on the con­ti­nent, but comes with a £39 bil­lion fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment and a “back­stop” agree­ment to avoid a hard bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic, which leaves the north un­der many EU rules.

Her deal agrees a 21-month tran­si­tion pe­riod un­der cur­rent terms, while the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the bloc is ne­go­ti­ated, but it has drawn stead­fast op­po­si­tion from both Brex­i­teers and Re­main­ers.

Brex­i­teers ar­gue it would pre­vent the UK from strik­ing other trade deals, while Re­main­ers says it leaves the UK worse off than cur­rent rules.

In her speech, May was to up the pres­sure on Brex­i­teers, warn­ing them if they didn’t sup­port her plan, they could be out­ma­noeu­vred by Re­mainer MPs, who are plot­ting to hi­jack Brexit with a view to mak­ing big changes to it, or even scup­per­ing it al­to­gether.

The Sun­day Times re­vealed this week a plot by rebel back­benchers from both sides to again launch pro­ce­dural moves that would see them hi­jack the tim­ing for the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion in par­lia­ment. This would po­ten­tially give them the power to de­lay Ar­ti­cle 50, the leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing Bri­tain to leave the EU by March 29.

This could then be used to sus­pend Brexit, but would ex­tend the pe­riod of uncer­tainty around the UK’s fu­ture rules for cus­toms, im­mi­gra­tion and travel, hit­ting the econ­omy hard.

May was been warned by her aides that the plot, if suc­cess­ful, would see the gov­ern­ment “lose its abil­ity to gov­ern’’.

She said the vote in the House of Com­mons was the “big­gest and most im­por­tant de­ci­sion that any MP of our gen­er­a­tion will be asked to make”.

Amid ru­mours the EU was pre­pared to ex­tend the March 29 dead­line, which was de­nied by 10 Down­ing St, MPs on all sides of the de­bate were fu­ri­ously ne­go­ti­at­ing for sup­port for their pre­ferred out­come.

De­spite the pres­sure, Brex­i­teers con­tin­ued to push for a “no-deal’’ de­par­ture – which would see Bri­tain crash out of the EU at mid­night on March 29 with no agree­ments with Brus­sels about vi­tal is­sues such as trade, se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion.

It would also al­low the UK to keep the al­most $70 bil­lion divorce bill it has agreed to pay to Brus­sels.

Oth­ers op­posed to a no-deal fu­ture were try­ing to make it il­le­gal for the PM to take Bri­tain out of the EU without agree­ments.

Her deal has foundered on con­cerns the “back­stop’’ – an ar­range­ment to stay in the cus­toms union for an­other few years to avoid a hard bor­der be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land, would tie the UK to the EU even more tightly.

May has ar­gued the back­stop would be tem­po­rary, and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which wants to avoid a no-deal, will is­sue a let­ter this week stat­ing that any such back­stop would be tem­po­rary.

But it is un­likely to be enough to see May’s Bill make it through the house.

(This is the) most im­por­tant de­ci­sion that any MP of our gen­er­a­tion will be asked to make THERESA MAY

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