May: Brexit at risk if EU deal voted down
The PM has a day to save her plan but the task looks hopeless
Theresa May enters one of the most tumultuous weeks of her turbulent leadership as Parliament prepares to decide the fate of her Brexit deal, and possibly her tenure as Prime Minister.
With her agreement facing almost certain defeat in a House of Commons vote tomorrow, May will make an 11thhour appeal with a warning that there’s now more chance of members of Parliament blocking Brexit than of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal.
“What if we found ourselves in a situation where Parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a remain vote? People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm,” May was to say today.
“We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.”
May’s warning comes after the Sunday Times reported that some MPs are planning to seize control of the legislative agenda from the Government in an act that would allow Parliament to extend the March 29 Brexit deadline or even overturn the decision to leave the EU. A senior government official described the plan as extremely concerning, since if it succeeds MPs would gain control over not just Brexit legislation but all legislation.
May has 24 hours to save a deal with the EU that’s taken almost two years to negotiate, but the task looks virtually hopeless. The Prime Minister appears no closer to getting the backing she needs than she was in December, when the vote was dramatically pulled before it could be rejected. The question
now is what she should do next.
A defeat would leave Britain on course to leave the EU with no new trading arrangements in place. According to Bank of England analysis, such a chaotic split could hammer the pound and home prices, and plunge Britain into a recession.
Brexit-backers argue that May should go back to the EU and renegotiate the most contentious parts of the deal before putting a revised agreement to a vote, though Brussels has indicated there’s little room for compromise. Senior ministers are also said to be urging May to seek a joint plan with the Opposition Labour Party, raising the possibility of a significantly softer Brexit.
Labour wants to topple the government by forcing a general election, and leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated his party could bring a no-confidence ballot within days if May loses the vote on her Brexit deal. His chance of victory is slim, and failure would put him under pressure to back the growing cross-party calls for a second referendum. That, in turn, risks a backlash from the many Labour supporters who voted to leave the EU.
The EU is waiting to see the outcome of tomorrow’s vote — and the margin of the expected defeat — before considering its response, officials said, with some predicting that May will have to delay Brexit. A margin of defeat exceeding about 60 MPs would probably mean the deal is close to death and negotiations are in uncharted waters, EU officials said. A narrower defeat and the bloc may look at fresh ways of making the deal palatable to get it across the finish line.
The EU was expected to publish a letter today in which the bloc will reiterate that the so-called Irish backstop arrangement, if it is triggered, will only be temporary. But the contents are unlikely to appease Brexiteers who fear Britain will end up being tied to EU trade rules indefinitely.