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 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