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

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - HAR­RIET LINE AND RICHARD WHEELER Press As­so­ci­a­tion po­lit­i­cal staff news­[email protected]­

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

Jeff Overs/BBC

> 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

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