Le­gal row holds up UK de­bate on con­tentious Brexit deal

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

LONDON: Bri­tish MPs on Tues­day be­gin de­bat­ing a highly con­tentious Brexit deal amid a row over the gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to pub­lish its le­gal ad­vice, as a top EU court lawyer said Bri­tain can uni­lat­er­ally change its mind about leav­ing the bloc.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May is fac­ing op­po­si­tion on all sides of the House of Com­mons to the with­drawal agree­ment she struck with the Euro­pean Union last month, and it risks be­ing re­jected in a vote on De­cem­ber 11.

The Con­ser­va­tive leader was to open the first of five days of de­bate on Tues­day, in­sist­ing her deal is the only op­tion for a smooth Brexit in March. “This is the deal that de­liv­ers for the Bri­tish peo­ple,” May will tell MPs.

“The Bri­tish peo­ple want us to get on with a deal that hon­ours the ref­er­en­dum and al­lows us to come to­gether again as a coun­try, which­ever way we voted.”

How­ever, her speech will be de­layed by a dis­pute over the gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to pub­lish the full le­gal ad­vice on the Brexit deal, de­spite a res­o­lu­tion to that ef­fect passed by MPs last month.

The row, which could see a min­is­ter sus­pended from the Com­mons, is a re­minder of how little con­trol May’s frag­ile mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment has over MPs ahead of next week’s cru­cial vote.

May has warned that re­ject­ing her deal could see Bri­tain leav­ing the EU with no agree­ment -- risk­ing a ma­jor re­ces­sion -- or no Brexit at all. Pro-Euro­pean MPs press­ing for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum with the right to stay in the EU re­ceived a boost on Tues­day from an opin­ion is­sued by a le­gal ad­viser to the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice (ECJ).


Ad­vo­cate Gen­eral Cam­pos Sanchez-Bor­dona stated that Bri­tain could, if it wanted, stop Brexit with­out the agree­ment of other EU coun­tries. “That pos­si­bil­ity con­tin­ues to ex­ist un­til the with­drawal agree­ment is for­mally con­cluded,” he said. Alyn Smith, an MP from the Scot­tish Na­tional Party who was among those who brought the case, said: “We now have a roadmap out of the Brexit sham­bles.”

The vote next week has huge im­pli­ca­tions for Bri­tain’s fu­ture and that of May her­self. The left-wing Labour party, which re­jects the deal and has raised the pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, says it would likely trig­ger a con­fi­dence vote to bring down her gov­ern­ment if May loses.


May, who has been con­stantly chal­lenged by hard­line eu­roscep­tics in her own Con­ser­va­tive party, could also face an in­ter­nal lead­er­ship con­test.

The 2016 ref­er­en­dum, in which 52 per cent of Britons chose to leave the EU, was deeply di­vi­sive and there re­main strong feel­ings on both sides.

Law­mak­ers are just as di­vided. Although a large ma­jor­ity voted to start the Brexit process, they can­not agree on how it should end.

Hard­line Con­ser­va­tive Brex­i­teers say May’s com­pro­mise deal does not rep­re­sent enough of a break with Brus­sels.

The Demo­cratic Union­ist Party (DUP), the Northern Ire­land party prop­ping up May’s gov­ern­ment, also ob­jects to spe­cial pro­vi­sions for the prov­ince.

Many of May’s crit­ics want her to go back and rene­go­ti­ate -- some sug­gest she could do so im­me­di­ately. Two days af­ter the Brexit vote, she is due in Brus­sels for an EU sum­mit. On Mon­day, pro-Euro­pean MPs de­liv­ered pe­ti­tions to Down­ing Street signed by one mil­lion peo­ple call­ing for a sec­ond vote to re­solve the is­sue.

“It is the only thing you can re­ally do if par­lia­ment is in grid­lock,” for­mer Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter Jus­tine Green­ing said.

The EU With­drawal Agree­ment cov­ers Bri­tain’s fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment, es­ti­mated at £39 bil­lion (43.7 bil­lion eu­ros, $49.8 bil­lion), the rights of EU ex­pa­tri­ates and plans for a post-Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod last­ing to De­cem­ber 2020.

The tran­si­tion is in­tended to give both sides time to strike a new trade and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship, as set out in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing political dec­la­ra­tion.

If this re­la­tion­ship is not set­tled by then, the with­drawal agree­ment pro­vides a “back­stop” ar­range­ment that would keep Bri­tain in an EU cus­toms union, with Northern Ire­land also fol­low­ing EU rules on reg­u­la­tion of goods.

May in­sists this is nec­es­sary to avoid bor­der checks in Ire­land, amid fears of any risk to the frag­ile peace on the is­land.

But op­po­nents say this risks ty­ing Bri­tain to the EU for years to come, and with no say in the bloc’s rules, leav­ing it a “vas­sal state”.

- File photo

ON GUARD: Police stand in the street out­side the Houses of Par­lia­ment in West­min­ster, London.

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