Euro divi­sion:

Ma­jor­ity lost af­ter Ir­ish al­lies side with Labour

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Agency Staff Lon­don /AFP

Demon­stra­tors for and against Brexit protest op­po­site the Houses of Par­lia­ment in Lon­don on Wed­nes­day. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May suf­fered a se­ries of stun­ning de­feats by MPs that threaten her gov­ern­ment and could change the course of Brexit.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was ac­cused on Wed­nes­day of mislead­ing MPs over her Brexit deal as her gov­ern­ment pub­lished le­gal ad­vice likely to in­crease op­po­si­tion to the agree­ment ahead of a cru­cial vote next week.

Scot­tish Na­tional Party MP Ian Black­ford was twice rep­ri­manded by the House of Com­mons speaker for sug­gest­ing May had mis­led MPs “in­ad­ver­tently or oth­er­wise”, be­fore with­draw­ing the claim.

May replied that she had al­ways been clear about the im­pli­ca­tions of the deal’s pro­vi­sions on North­ern Ire­land, which risk keep­ing Bri­tain tied to the EU’s eco­nomic rules for years af­ter leav­ing next March. But she em­pha­sised nei­ther side wanted this to hap­pen and re­peated that the with­drawal agree­ment struck with Brus­sels in Novem­ber was the only vi­able op­tion.

May has suf­fered a se­ries of stun­ning de­feats in par­lia­ment, which threaten her gov­ern­ment and ul­ti­mately could change the course of Brexit. On Tues­day, she ef­fec­tively lost her ma­jor­ity in the Com­mons af­ter the North­ern Ir­ish party on which she re­lies sided with the Labour Party to find her min­is­ters in con­tempt of par­lia­ment for fail­ing to pub­lish in full the le­gal ad­vice on the Brexit deal.

Mean­while, 25 of her own Con­ser­va­tive MPs voted with Labour to give the Com­mons a big­ger say in what hap­pens if, as ex­pected, the Brexit deal is voted down on De­cem­ber 11.

The gov­ern­ment on Wed­nes­day fi­nally pub­lished the six­page ad­vice from the at­tor­ney­gen­eral to the cab­i­net, which warns of the “le­gal risk” in­her­ent in a clause in­tended to keep open the bor­der with Ire­land.

It con­firms Bri­tain risks re­main­ing “in­def­i­nitely” in the so-called back­stop, which could keep the whole coun­try in an EU cus­toms union for years af­ter Brexit, while also keep­ing the prov­ince of North­ern Ire­land in the bloc’s sin­gle mar­ket.

MPs on Tues­day also voted to ap­prove an amend­ment tabled by Con­ser­va­tive for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral Do­minic Grieve, which al­lows par­lia­ment to de­ter­mine what hap­pens if the deal falls.

If May loses the vote next week, the gov­ern­ment has 21 days to re­turn to MPs to pro­pose what hap­pens next.

Grieve’s amend­ment could al­low MPs to amend that state­ment, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity they could de­mand a rene­go­ti­a­tion, a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum or even stay­ing in the EU.

In­ter­na­tional trade sec­re­tary Liam Fox aired that con­cern, say­ing that a ma­jor­ity in favour of stay­ing in the EU in par­lia­ment “may at­tempt to steal Brexit from the Bri­tish peo­ple”.

May opened the first of five days of de­bate on the Brexit deal on Tues­day, with op­po­si­tion Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn call­ing her plan “a huge and dam­ag­ing fail­ure for Bri­tain”.

There are few peo­ple who be­lieve May’s deal will sur­vive the vote next Tues­day but the ques­tion of what hap­pens next re­mains wide open. Some Con­ser­va­tive MPs are push­ing for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, with a choice of stay­ing in the EU.

But May warned on Tues­day that an­other Brexit vote would do noth­ing to set­tle bit­ter de­bates about Bri­tain’s place in Europe that have raged since it joined the bloc in 1973. “We can­not af­ford to spend the next decade as a coun­try go­ing round in cir­cles,” she ar­gued.

Many MPs want May to re­turn to Brus­sels to rene­go­ti­ate her deal, and she is due at a sum­mit two days af­ter next week’s vote. How­ever, EU lead­ers have re­peat­edly said they will not re­open the divorce deal.

In Brus­sels, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion on Wed­nes­day be­gan the process of rat­i­fy­ing the Brexit deal. Com­mis­sion vice-pres­i­dent Valdis Dom­brovskis told re­porters: “We are pre­par­ing for the deal.”

Other MPs are push­ing for Bri­tain to stay in the Eu­ro­pean eco­nomic area, which would pro­tect the econ­omy but would not ful­fil the ref­er­en­dum prom­ise of end­ing free move­ment of work­ers from the EU.

Some Euroscep­tic Con­ser­va­tives be­lieve Bri­tain can leave with­out any deal at all, although a gov­ern­ment as­sess­ment last week found this risked caus­ing a ma­jor re­ces­sion.

If her deal fails, May is likely to face a con­fi­dence vote in the Com­mons or a lead­er­ship chal­lenge by her own Con­ser­va­tive MPs.


Fre­quently asked ques­tions: Bri­tain's Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May stands at the dis­patch box as she speaks dur­ing the weekly ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion in the House of Com­mons in Lon­don on Wed­nes­day.

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