May re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing de­lay on Brexit deal vote

De­feat in par­lia­ment could trig­ger elec­tion


HERESA May is said to be weigh­ing a plan to post­pone the crunch vote on her Brexit deal in an at­tempt to avoid a land­slide de­feat that would risk a ma­jor U.K. po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

The prime min­is­ter was urged by al­lies in her Con­ser­va­tive Party to de­lay the par­lia­men­tary vote on the U.K.’s di­vorce agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union amid pre­dic­tions she would lose it badly. De­feat would put the U.K. on course to crash out of the EU in March with­out a deal, and could trig­ger a fresh at­tempt to top­ple May and even a gen­eral elec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter, May met with her top min­is­ters in Lon­don on Thurs­day to dis­cuss op­tions. These in­cluded:

● Ask­ing the EU for a bet­ter deal by re­open­ing talks in Brus­sels.

● Of­fer­ing law­mak­ers a big­ger say over the most con­tentious clauses in the text, on the Ir­ish bor­der.

● With­draw­ing from the key vote to rat­ify the deal in Par­lia­ment on Tues­day and aim­ing to resched­ule it for later date.

Asked if he thought the Dec. 11 vote should be de­layed, cab­i­net min­is­ter

TMatt Han­cock said: “No. Down­ing Street have been very clear that they’re not go­ing to de­lay the vote. I think we should win the vote,” he told BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gram on Fri­day. “Don’t pre­judge it.”

The health sec­re­tary said May’s deal would be best for the coun­try as a whole as “there isn’t a ma­jor­ity for any other par­tic­u­lar op­tion.”

With so much at stake, May is look­ing for a way to avoid a heavy de­feat and keep her Brexit deal alive. But the task is daunt­ing, since so many Con­ser­va­tives are lin­ing up to op­pose her plan.

May has been bat­tling her own party on Brexit ever since she lost her ma­jor­ity in the snap elec­tion of June 2017 and has some­how sur­vived, with her plans inch­ing for­ward.

A key tac­tic for May’s team has been to use time to her ad­van­tage. When an ap­par­ently in­tractable dis­pute seems about to blow up her gov­ern­ment, May has pressed the pause but­ton, buy­ing both sides in the con­flict the time to calm down. While this has worked in the past, the prob­lem she faces is that time has al­most run out.

The U.K. will leave the EU on March 29 even if no deal is rat­i­fied by then. And if May is aim­ing to go back to Brus­sels to ask for changes to the di­vorce agree­ment, the sum­mit next week — two days af­ter the House of Com­mons votes — would be the ideal time to do it.

Gra­ham Brady, the in­flu­en­tial chair­man of the 1922 Com­mit­tee of Tory law­mak­ers, pub­licly sug­gested May should post­pone Tues­day’s vote to give her time to strike a com­pro­mise with pro-Brexit law­mak­ers over a mech­a­nism for end­ing the so-called North­ern Ire­land back­stop.

May has been meet­ing with Tory rebels and min­is­ters all week in an at­tempt to find a way through this par­tic­u­lar ob­sta­cle of the Brexit puz­zle, which has di­vided her party and the coun­try.

“I’m sure the House of Com­mons would be happy to give her a few more days,” Brady said in an in­ter­view with Sky News. It came af­ter May met with se­nior MPs on Thurs­day to dis­cuss the grow­ing prospect of de­feat in Par­lia­ment. “I don’t think there’s any point in plow­ing ahead and los­ing the vote heav­ily.”

Dur­ing the meet­ing, which was called by May, Chief Whip Ju­lian Smith said the gov­ern­ment is head­ing for a de­feat, while Am­ber Rudd, the work and pen­sions sec­re­tary, be­came frus­trated and asked, “What do you want to do, prime min­is­ter?” ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Daily Tele­graph.

Many law­mak­ers who are op­posed to the deal say it could lock the U.K. into the back­stop in­def­i­nitely, in essence bind­ing Bri­tain to the EU cus­toms union. Even though May says the back­stop is un­likely to be used, the cur­rent agree­ment pro­vides no le­gal as­sur­ances to pre­vent such a sce­nario from hap­pen­ing.

Bri­tain and the EU agreed the back­stop in or­der to avoid a hard bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic of Ire­land. The back­stop will kick in if the two sides don’t find a last­ing so­lu­tion to avoid­ing checks at the bor­der.

“It puts us in a for­mi­da­bly bad ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion for the fu­ture,” for­mer Brexit sec­re­tary David Davis said on Thurs­day. Par­lia­ment has been de­bat­ing on the deal for three days.

May said she’s in talks to of­fer Par­lia­ment a say over whether to ex­tend the Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod be­yond De­cem­ber 2020 if needed, rather than en­ter into the back­stop ar­range­ment. But there are also other ideas that could be more at­trac­tive to Brexit back­ers, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who de­clined to be named.

It’s also pos­si­ble that an amend­ment to Tues­day’s bill pro­posed by one of her fiercest crit­ics ends up spar­ing her from a ma­jor blow. A wreck­ing amend­ment to the deal drafted by Labour law­maker Hi­lary Benn and signed by Labour and Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers calls for May’s agree­ment to be ripped up, and for the gov­ern­ment to rule out a no-deal Brexit. If it passes, there would be no point in the gov­ern­ment con­tin­u­ing to push its mo­tion.

Bri­tain Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May

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