May likely to lose Brexit vote

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER - Gor­don Rayner Lon­don

Cab­i­net min­is­ters have told Theresa May to come up with an 11th hour plan to get her Brexit deal through the House of Com­mons as the Chief Whip ad­mit­ted she would lose Tues­day’s vote.

The Prime Minister was con­fronted in Down­ing Street by Am­ber Rudd and other se­nior min­is­ters who de­manded to know what she in­tended to do to sal­vage the vote and her Brexit deal.

Dur­ing the cri­sis meet­ing called by Mrs May, min­is­ters of­fered her four op­tions in­clud­ing a post­pone­ment of the vote but came away ex­as­per­ated when she re­fused to com­mit to any of them.

At one point a frus­trated Ms Rudd asked her: “What do you want to do, Prime Minister?”

He re­ceived a non-com­mit­tal re­ply.

Ju­lian Smith, the Chief Whip, con­ceded for the first time that the Gov­ern­ment was head­ing for de­feat over the with­drawal agree­ment and the min­is­ters warned Mrs May that a de­feat by 200 votes was not im­pos­si­ble. Mrs May is un­der­stood to have agreed with them that such a cat­a­strophic de­feat had to be avoided at all costs.

Cab­i­net sources said min­is­ters were al­ready form­ing into groups that would present Mrs May with al­ter­na­tive ways for­ward at the week­end.

At least 12 min­is­ters are un­der­stood to favour post­pon­ing the vote, with Gavin Wil­liamson, the De­fence Sec­re­tary and for­mer chief whip, among the most vo­cif­er­ous.

How­ever, Mrs May would have to ask Par­lia­ment’s per­mis­sion to do this, run­ning the risk that she could be hu­mil­i­ated by be­ing forced to go ahead with the vote against her will.

Philip Ham­mond, the Chan­cel­lor, told the House of Com­mons it was “sim­ply a delu­sion” to be­lieve that Brus­sels would of­fer Bri­tain a bet­ter deal at this late stage, which could un­der­mine any at­tempt by Mrs May to per­suade rebel MPs other­wise.

Mrs May held her one-hour meet­ing with nine mem­bers of her Cab­i­net af­ter sum­mon­ing them to Down­ing Street.

She has sur­vived scan­dals, los­ing ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment, mass Cab­i­net res­ig­na­tions and an at­tempted coup by Tory rebels. Her Con­ser­va­tive Gov­ern­ment has been found guilty of con­tempt of Par­lia­ment for the first time in Bri­tish his­tory.

But on Tues­day, Prime Minister Theresa May will face the great­est chal­lenge yet to her sur­vival when the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment votes on whether to en­dorse her plan for how Bri­tain should leave the Euro­pean Union.

Ev­ery sign points to the deal be­ing voted down, al­though by what mar­gin is un­clear.

What is clear, though, is that next week is shap­ing up to be a mon­u­men­tal one in Bri­tish pol­i­tics — it could end with a Brexit deal, a snap gen­eral elec­tion, a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, a no-deal, off-the-cliff-edge Brexit, or even a new prime minister.

May, 62, has un­til then to con­vince hos­tile mem­bers of Par­lia­ment that her Brexit deal is the best they’re go­ing to get.

“We should not let the search for the per­fect Brexit pre­vent a good Brexit that de­liv­ers for the Bri­tish peo­ple,” she said this week.

So hero­ically lack­ing in charisma that she’s known as the May­bot, May has es­chewed any phony charm of­fen­sive and in­stead gone for pure prag­ma­tism, urg­ing MPs to “do their duty” and de­liver the re­sults the peo­ple voted for in 2016 when they voted, nar­rowly, to leave the Euro­pean Union.

The se­nior lec­turer in gov­ern­ment at the Univer­sity of Es­sex, Tom Quinn, said next week loomed for May as “the most se­ri­ous threat to her premier­ship to date”. “It is hard to see how she sur­vives the fall of a deal in which she has in­vested so much po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal,” Dr Quinn said.

“It is not yet clear what the Plan B is if May’s deal fails, but what­ever it is, it would al­most cer­tainly need a new prime minister to ad­vo­cate it.”

Bri­tain’s first fe­male prime minister since the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, May won the Tory party lead­er­ship in 2016 af­ter David Cameron quit in re­sponse to the Brexit ref­er­en­dum re­sult.

Her ri­val, An­drea Lead­som, stood aside af­ter a news­pa­per in­ter­view where she in­ti­mated she would make a bet­ter prime minister than May be­cause May didn’t have chil­dren. (May has pre­vi­ously spo­ken of her sad­ness that she and hus­band Philip were un­able to con­ceive.)

May had voted Re­main, al­though she pro­fessed to be­ing a “Euroscep­tic”, and the price of win­ning the Tory lead­er­ship was the job of try­ing to man­age Bri­tain’s di­vorce from the Euro­pean Union af­ter 45 years.

Un­tan­gling the tens of thou­sands of laws and reg­u­la­tions which keep the UK bound to the 27 other coun­tries of the bloc has brought her to the brink of po­lit­i­cal obliv­ion nu­mer­ous times, and her lat­est deal, which le­gal ad­vice shows would po­ten­tially tie the UK to the EU “in­def­i­nitely” through a North­ern Ire­land back­stop, has suc­ceeded in unit­ing Brex­i­teer and Re­mainer MPs against her.

But May has con­tin­ued to fight for the plan, and is spend­ing five days in the House of Com­mons plead­ing her case, talk­ing econ­omy, trade, fi­nan­cial mar­kets, im­mi­gra­tion, and al­ways ap­peal­ing to the head and not the heart.

It’s how she has spent her en­tire ca­reer. The only child of an Angli­can Church vicar and a house­wife, Theresa Mary Brasier was born on Oc­to­ber 1, 1956, in East­bourne in Sus­sex, a bright child who later went to Ox­ford Univer­sity to study geog­ra­phy.

It was here she met her fu­ture hus­band, fel­low stu­dent Phillip, af­ter a mu­tual friend, fu­ture Pak­istani prime minister Be­nazir Bhutto, in­tro­duced them at a dance. Phillip May later said it was “love at first sight”.

They mar­ried in 1980 and have been in­sep­a­ra­ble for the past 38 years. She refers to her fi­nancier hus­band as her rock.

She was or­phaned at the age of 25 when her par­ents died a few months apart — her fa­ther in a car ac­ci­dent and her mother from the ef­fects of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Like her hus­band, she en­joyed a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in fi­nance. May en­tered pol­i­tics in 1997 when she first won her seat of Maiden­head in wealthy west Berk­shire, west of Lon­don, where her con­stituents in­clude disgraced Aus­tralian chil­dren’s en­ter­tainer Rolf Harris and the res­i­dents of the Queen’s week­end home, Wind­sor Cas­tle.

Theresa May leaves Num­ber 10 Down­ing Street.

Pic­ture: AP

May in the House of Com­mons this week.

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