PM’s last-ditch bid to save Brexit deal
Political editor David Williamson examines the options open to Theresa May in the event of her Brexit deal being defeated tomorrow. The only certainty is that Westminster faces even more uncertainty
PARLIAMENT is more likely to block Brexit than allow Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal, Theresa May is set to warn today as she delivers an appeal to MPs to back her withdrawal agreement.
The Prime Minister will use a speech to factory workers in Stoke-on-Trent, on the eve of the critical Commons vote on her exit plan, to ask MPs to consider the “consequences” of their actions on the faith of British people in democracy.
She will draw parallels with Wales’ 1997 devolution vote and warn that trust in politicians will suffer “catastrophic harm” if they fail to implement the result of the referendum.
As the UK Government enters a critical 48 hours in its bid to take the UK out of the EU – with its Withdrawal Agreement widely expected to be heading for defeat in tomorrow’s vote – other developments saw:
■ Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warning that Mrs May can expect a vote of no confidence in her Government “soon”;
■ Pro-remain politicians publishing proposed legisation for a second referendum;
■ Forecasters the Economist Intelligence Unit predicting Britain is unlikely to leave the EU on March 29; and
New analysis suggesting the impact of the Brexit vote reduced the value of UK companies by 16%.
With less than 36 hours to go until the long-awaited vote, Mrs May is expected to say: “I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy.
“Imagine if an anti-devolution House of Commons had said to the people of Scotland or Wales that despite voting in favour of a devolved legislature, Parliament knew better and would overrule them. Or else force them to vote again.
“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.
“We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.”
The Prime Minister will say that while the two sides in the 2016 referendum disagreed on many things, they were united on one thing – that “what the British people decided, the politicians would implement”.
“On the rare occasions when Parliament puts a question to the British people directly we have always understood that their response carries a profound significance,” Mrs May will say.
“When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh Assembly, that result was accepted by both sides and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned.
“Parliament understood this fact when it voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50. And both major parties did so too when they stood on election manifestos in 2017 that pledged to honour the result of the referendum.”
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn said people should “see what happens” tomorrow, when Mrs May’s controversial Withdrawal Agreement is put to a vote in the Commons – but said his party would table a confidence motion “at a time of our choosing”.
Mr Corbyn told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “We will table a motion of no confidence in the Government at a time of our choosing, but it’s going to be soon, don’t worry about it.”
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said there had been “some movement” from MPs to support the agreement which is widely expected to be defeated, he said he thought that if it fell the Commons would eventually support something “along the lines of this deal”.
And he warned of a “growing risk” that Parliament could frustrate Brexit, following reports of a plot to change Commons rules to enable backbench motions to take precedence over Government business if Mrs May’s deal falls. Downing Street said it was “extremely concerned” about the plans, reported in the Sunday Times, which could threaten Brexit legislation and the Government’s ability to govern.
Mr Barclay told Marr: “What recent events have shown, with events over the last week with what happened on the legal advice where the Government was forced to act in a way it didn’t want to, is the uncertainty in terms of what will happen in the House has increased.
“So those on the Brexiteer side seeking ideological purity with a deal are risking Brexit, because there is a growing risk that events could unfold in ways that (mean) they are leaving the door ajar to ways that increase the risk to Brexit.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said it would be “outrageous and unforgivable” if a no-deal Brexit was allowed to happen, adding: “I think Parliament will take control of this process, will insist that we pursue the option of no Brexit.”
Sir Vince said this could happen by cancelling Article 50 – which he noted would be “resented by lots of people” – or via a second referendum.
Mr Corbyn hinted that Article 50 may have to be extended if his party came into power.
He told Marr: “Clearly if Theresa May’s deal is voted down, clearly if a general election takes place and a Labour government comes in – an election would take place February, March time – clearly there’s only a few weeks between that and the leave date, there would have to be time for those negotiations.”
Meanwhile, a cross-party group of anti-Brexit politicians has today published proposed legislation to bring about a second referendum.
The draft Bill recommends that the public be asked whether they want to remain in the European Union or leave under the Prime Minister’s deal.
Organisers note that Article 50 would have to be extended in order for another poll to take place, meaning the UK would remain a member of the EU beyond March 29.
The legislation could be introduced through the House of Lords
under plans being considered by the group.
It recommends the ballot paper be worded: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union on the negotiated terms?”
Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the Bill provides the Government with an “escape hatch” if there is no majority in Parliament for Theresa May’s deal or no deal.
“This Bill provides a legally credible way forward, and a politically credible way forward,” he added.
Sir Vince said the draft legislation demonstrates how quickly a socalled People’s Vote could be delivered, and puts “flesh on the bones of our campaign for a final say”.
“With the Bill, Liberal Democrats and others can give the country the best way out of the present uncertainty.
“The Government should accept this as the starting point for legislation to break the current deadlock, enabling the people the final say and the option to remain in the EU.”
Cardiff-born former Commons Clerk Lord Lisvane, a life peer, added: “We have worked together on a cross-party – and no-party – basis to provide a pragmatic solution to the present impasse.
“Now that people know what the options are, it seems right to let them choose. This Bill provides for that.”
The group has also drafted a “Paving Bill” designed to enable the Electoral Commission to start the necessary consultation around a referendum question and lead campaign designation. As Mrs May faces a defining moment in her troubled premiership, writing in the Sunday Expres she said: “You, the British people, voted to leave. And then, in the 2017 General Election, 80% of you voted for MPs who stood on manifestos to respect that referendum result. You have delivered your instructions. Now it is our turn to deliver for you.
“When you turned out to vote in the referendum, you did so because you wanted your voice to be heard. Some of you put your trust in the political process for the first time in decades. We cannot – and must not – let you down.”
THERESA MAY is facing such a massive defeat on her Brexit plan that losing by 150 would be “better than expected”, according to one of Wales’ most respected political scientists.
The Prime Minister postponed plans to hold the “meaningful vote” on the Withdrawal Agreement last month because she faced a crushing defeat but Parliament is widely expected to reject the deal on Tuesday. It is understood more than 100 Conservative MPs could oppose it.
Prof Roger Awan-Scully, head of Politics and International Relations at Cardiff University, said people should be “very” worried.
He said: “This is shambolic handling. This is doing all sorts of damage to the UK’s international reputation. Increasingly, internationally, we’re just looking ridiculous. You can take different views about whether in principle the UK should be in the EU or out of the EU or if we’re leaving how we should do it, but it’s difficult from any perspective to defend this ongoing shambles that we’re presenting to the world and I think it is doing a lot of damage to the way the UK is perceived, particularly in the rest of Europe but even more broadly.
“If we leave the EU with these ‘global Britain’ ambitions, well, much of the globe is thinking we’re a bunch of idiots right now, or at least our politicians are anyway.”
If the vote is lost the UK Government will have to come back to the Commons within three working days with revised plans.
Prof Awan-Scully did not think Mrs May could delay the vote again. Last month’s postponement led to the vote of confidence in her leadership by Conservative MPs.
He said: “I think if they were to try and pull the vote again there would be even more serious disquiet in Parliament – and I think maybe even from some ministers.
“Theresa May’s basic approach throughout much of Brexit, certainly since the General Election, has been to obfuscate and play for time; I think it’s kind of running to the end of the road on that. They can’t just keep delaying this vote endlessly... [We’ve] reached the point where a government defeat on its most important policy of 150 would actually be a better than expected outcome, which is a strange situation to be in to put it mildly.
“It’s possible that Theresa May’s whole approach is finally reaching the endgame.”
Montgomeryshire Conservative MP Glyn Davies said it was time to “start facing up to what we’re going to do next”.
He said: “It’s pretty well a given that the vote will be lost next week and the major request [is] what happens next. I want the same thing that Jeremy Corbyn wanted – I want the Prime Minister to go back to the European Union to explore whether there’s any possibility of satisfying the concerns about the position [about the] Northern Ireland border and then to come back hopefully with an amended motion to put before the House of Commons again...
“Not only do I want to see that, it’s what I expect to happen.”
Cardiff Central Labour MP Jo Stevens was clear about what action she hopes Mrs May will take. She wants the PM to stop the process by which the UK will leave the EU on March 29 regardless of whether or not a deal has been agreed.
She said: “Ideally, she would accept that his whole mess can be brought to an immediate end by revoking Article 50.”
Plaid Cymru Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards said it had been an “enormous political miscalculation” to postpone the debate and argued Mrs May would not acknowledge her deal was “dead” until it was voted down.
Mr Edwards said: “You can’t move along the process in terms of trying to find a way out of this mess unless the Government’s deal is officially voted down.
“And the Prime Minister’s put her own pride before what’s best for the UK.”
He claimed there had been a “malfunction of decision-making with the British Government on Brexit policy from the first day after the referendum” and said a priority must be defeating the Government’s deal and removing the threat of a “no deal” exit so that other options can be opened up.
THERESA May will watch tomorrow as MPs give their verdict on the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the European Union.
Unless she has pulled off a political masterstroke that will rank as one of the greatest democratic surprises ever, hundreds of parliamentarians will reject the deal.
She delayed this “meaningful vote” last month when it looked like it faced certain defeat but – to borrow a phrase she memorably used on the campaign trail in 2017 – nothing has changed, except that there is even less time before Brexit day on March 29.
MPs in parties including her own remain implacably opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement and she has failed to win them round to its merits. She has tried to scare pro-EU MPs by warning that the alternative is a no deal exit, just as she has sought to convince Brexiteers that the country could remain in the union if they reject what is on offer.
It should come as no surprise that she has ended up in this mess. There was no attempt to forge national consensus on the best future for Britain outside the EU after the referendum.
When pressed for details we were given the empty statement that “Brexit means Brexit”. This is one of the worst examples of politicians uttering tautological nonsense on a subject of crucial importance in modern times.
Further alienating arrogance was on display when the Government batted away valid questions with a high-handed refusal to give a “running commentary” on its preparations. We now know that this obfuscation was not part of a masterful Brexit diplomatic strategy; nothing was being sown at this time but the seeds of the present dangerous chaos.
Her appointments of Brexiteers to senior posts once looked like a generous and almost Lincolnesque attempt to forge a team of rivals. But the resignation of two Brexit secretaries demonstrated she could not bring her cabinet together behind a common vision, never mind her own party.
It is unfortunate that the Government’s Brexit strategy has been so defined by the internal politics of the Conservative party, even though it lacks a majority in the Commons. Her snap election was an indulgent move which weakened her negotiating hand and has led to greater instability.
Historians will ask why she triggered Article 50 when there was no agreement on the best outcome for Britain. These are perilous days.
Theresa May’s Government and force a General Election.
If Labour win, it’s inconceivable Jeremy Corbyn will support nuclear power financially or otherwise. Little wonder Hitachi is considering suspending work on Wylfa. Mairede Thomas, Menai Bridge, Anglesey
> Theresa May
> Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday
> Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency yesterday