May makes eleventh-hour Brexit plea to Tory MPS
PM says failure to back her deal would be catastrophic breach of trust in democracy
Th e resa May ha s launched an eleventhhour plea to MPS to back her Brexit deal in Tuesday’s crunch vote, warning that a failure to deliver Brexit would represent a “catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy”.
Writing in the Sunday Express, the British prime minister insisted that Conservative MPS who did not back her agreement risked either no Brexit or a no-deal Brexit. “My message to Parliament this weekend is simple: It is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.”
Separately, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said there were worrying signs that Parliament would try to thwart Britain leaving the EU. “The possibility of losing the prize we all fought for is now very real,” he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph. “Parliament has to be for something. It is not good enough to simply say what it is against.”
According to some estimates the government could be on track for an epic defeat on Tuesday evening, by as much as 200 votes when its withdrawal agreement with Brussels is put to a House of Commons vote.
Jean-claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, is set to make a final effort to save the deal by making promises to try to limit the contentious Irish backstop to no more than a year. Mr Juncker and Mrs May are to co-ordinate an exchange of letters, probably on Monday, to try to win over wavering Eurosceptic MPS.
Downing Street expressed alarm on Sunday after it emerged that a cross-party group of MPS was seeking to change the Commons rules to enable backbench motions to take precedence over government business if Mrs May’s deal is defeated on Tuesday. That would overturn a precedent dating back to the 1880s.
In theory MPS could then compel the government to delay Article 50, meaning that Brexit would not take place as planned at the end of March.
It is thought that the measure could even give MPS the power to try to force a second referendum. “This is extremely concerning,” a Number 10 source said. “If successful this would give MPS powers to control not only what happens to Brexit legislation but all legislation. It represents a real threat to all government business.”
Julian Smith, the chief whip, commissioned written legal advice about the plans, according to The Sunday Times. The ensuing document says that the move by MPS would represent “a clear and present danger” to all government business: “The government would lose its ability to govern.”
Chris Leslie, a Europhile Labour MP, said the idea of a backbencher plot was “spin” from Downing Street. In reality it would be hard to change Commons Standing Order 14 — which says government business always has precedence, because the government itself would have to allocate time for debating and voting on such a change.
“I don’t believe Downing Street is worried about any standing order changes, they are hyping it to frighten the Eurosceptic ERG [European Research Group] into falling back into line,” he told the Financial Times.
What was more broadly true, Mr Leslie said, was that Parliament was seeking to take back control through existing mechanisms — such as by seeking to amend next week’s Business of the House motion.
Chris Grayling, transport secretary, told Sky News that if Parliament thwarted Brexit the UK could see the arrival in the UK of the kind of populist “political extremism” seen in much of mainland Europe.
John Major, former Tory prime minister, said that revoking Article 50 was now the “only sensible course” to take in order to carry out a second referendum. “Jumping off a cliff has never had a happy ending,” Sir John wrote in The Sunday Times.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader, is expected to launch a vote of no confidence in the government within hours of Mrs May’s expected defeat, setting the scene for a vote as early as Wednesday.
However, Mr Corbyn has not confirmed any such plan, given that he is unlikely to muster enough votes to win in those circumstances.
He is refusing to say whether Labour would back Brexit in a snap general election. Asked repeatedly on the BBC’S The Andrew Marr Show whether a Labour manifesto would back leaving the EU, he refused to answer five times. He also indicated that he did not want a second referendum, saying he would “rather get a negotiated deal now”.
Theresa May: ‘My message to Parliament this weekend is simple: It is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country’ © Getty