Bri­tish PM May de­ploys min­is­ters to sell Brexit

Times Colonist - - World - DAN­ICA KIRKA

LON­DON — Bri­tish Prime Minister Theresa May sent 30 mem­bers of her gov­ern­ment around the coun­try Fri­day to rally pop­u­lar sup­port to pres­sure law­mak­ers to ap­prove her Brexit agree­ment on leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

The Brexit deal is prov­ing a tough sell, and May is com­ing un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to de­lay a par­lia­men­tary vote sched­uled for next week in hopes of wring­ing con­ces­sions out of the EU. With three days of Bri­tish law­mak­ers’ five-day de­bate on the deal over, an anal­y­sis by Bri­tain’s Press As­so­ci­a­tion showed that just 27 of the 163 law­mak­ers who have spo­ken out in­di­cated they would back the deal, com­pared with 122 who say they will vote against it. That lat­ter num­ber in­cludes 29 mem­bers of May’s own Con­ser­va­tive Party.

The big­gest stick­ing point is the so-called back­stop, which could keep the U.K. in a cus­toms union with the EU in­def­i­nitely if the two sides can’t agree on an­other way to pre­vent phys­i­cal border con­trols be­tween North­ern Ire­land, which is part of the U.K., and the Repub­lic of Ire­land, which is part of the EU.

The pro­posal has sparked op­po­si­tion from all sides be­cause the U.K. would be un­able to leave the back­stop with­out ap­proval from the EU. North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, whose 10 law­mak­ers prop up May’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, op­pose the mea­sure be­cause it would treat North­ern Ire­land dif­fer­ently from the rest of the U.K.

Boris Johnson, May’s for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary who is firmly against her Brexit deal, said the back­stop “hands the EU the in­def­i­nite power to bully and black­mail this coun­try to get what­ever it wants” in ne­go­ti­a­tions over the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two sides.

Terms of the deal “re­sem­ble the kind of dik­tat that might be im­posed on a na­tion that has suf­fered a mil­i­tary de­feat ...” he wrote in a Face­book post. “The Span­ish will make an­other push for Gi­bral­tar. The Ger­mans will al­most cer­tainly want con­ces­sions on EU mi­grants. And the French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has made it clear that he will not let Bri­tain out of jail un­til we have sat­is­fied his de­mands for U.K. fish.”

The House of Com­mons is sched­uled to vote on the plan Tues­day. May’s gov­ern­ment has so far re­jected calls to post­pone the vote.

In­stead, she has sent her most se­nior ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing Trea­sury chief Philip Ham­mond and Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock, to schools, hospi­tals and small busi­nesses around the coun­try to take her case to the Bri­tish peo­ple.

May said most peo­ple “want us to get on with it,” and that it’s im­por­tant for min­is­ters speak with com­mu­ni­ties to ex­plain how her Brexit deal “works for them.”

The prime minister ar­gues the agree­ment she spent the last 21⁄2 years ne­go­ti­at­ing is the best one Bri­tain is go­ing to get and the al­ter­na­tive is crash­ing out of the EU with­out a deal, which could have dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on the econ­omy. EU of­fi­cials have warned May’s Brexit deal is the only one on of­fer.

Alan Wa­ger of the non-par­ti­san re­search group UK in a Chang­ing Europe said it is not so im­por­tant whether May loses — but by how much. He ar­gued that May must con­vince many of her own party’s law­mak­ers to take her side in or­der to make it plau­si­ble to go back to the EU and have an­other try.

“The scale of the de­feat in Par­lia­ment is the most im­por­tant thing here, not whether there’s a de­feat or not,” he said. “She would need to lose by less than 50 MPs to keep in of­fice prob­a­bly.”

Plan­ning for a no-deal Brexit is con­tin­u­ing apace, how­ever, both by the gov­ern­ment and by Bri­tish firms. A key de­sire is to make sure that cru­cial im­ports get into the coun­try af­ter March 29, when Bri­tain is sched­uled to leave the EU, even if there is some chaos at the ports.

Han­cock said the gov­ern­ment was buy­ing re­frig­er­a­tion units to stock­pile drugs. Planes could be used to fly in medicines, by­pass­ing grid­locked ports. “If there is se­ri­ous dis­rup­tion at the border we will have pri­or­i­ti­za­tion, and pri­or­i­ti­za­tion will in­clude medicines and med­i­cal de­vices,” he said.

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