No to deal risks los­ing U.K. trust, May warns

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LON­DON — British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May warned Sun­day that law­mak­ers risk un­der­min­ing the pub­lic’s faith in democ­racy if they re­ject her divorce deal with the Euro­pean Union in a vote set for Tues­day.

May said some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment were play­ing po­lit­i­cal games with the exit de­bate. Law­mak­ers, she said, should re­spect the re­sults of the 2016 ref­er­en­dum in which 52 per­cent of vot­ers backed leav­ing the EU.

Fail­ing to do so “would be a cat­a­strophic and un­for­giv­able breach of trust in our democ­racy,” she wrote in a com­men­tary pub­lished by the Sun­day Ex­press. “So my mes­sage to Par­lia­ment this week­end is sim­ple: it is time to for­get the games and do what is right for our coun­try.”

The gov­ern­ment tried to pres­sure re­sis­tant law­mak­ers by say­ing their re­fusal to fall in line could re­sult in Bri­tain re­main­ing a mem­ber of the EU. De­par­ture Sec­re­tary Steve Bar­clay warned Sun­day of the grow­ing risk that Par­lia­ment could block the EU exit al­to­gether.

The prime min­is­ter’s of­fice also said it was “ex­tremely con­cerned” about re­ports that some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment would try to seize con­trol of exit ne­go­ti­a­tions if the agree­ment May’s gov­ern­ment reached with the EU is de­feated.

The Sun­day Times news­pa­per re­ported that se­nior law­mak­ers in­tend to try to change the rules of the House of Com­mons so they can wrest con­trol of the leg­isla­tive agenda from the gov­ern­ment.

A se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial on Sun­day de­scribed the plan as ex­tremely con­cern­ing since, if it suc­ceeds, law­mak­ers would gain con­trol over not just de­par­ture leg­is­la­tion but all leg­is­la­tion.

The prime min­is­ter faces wide­spread op­po­si­tion to the ex­ist­ing agree­ment, pri­mar­ily be­cause of lan­guage de­signed to pre­vent the rein­tro­duc­tion of phys­i­cal bor­der con­trols be­tween North­ern Ire­land, which is part of the U.K., and the Repub­lic of Ire­land, a mem­ber of the EU.

Law­mak­ers on all sides of the exit de­bate fear the so-called North­ern Ire­land back­stop could leave Bri­tain tied to the EU in­def­i­nitely.

The EU is ex­pected to pub­lish a let­ter to­day in which the bloc will reit­er­ate that the so-called Ir­ish back­stop ar­range­ment, if it is trig­gered, will only be tem­po­rary.

May postponed a vote on the exit deal in mid-De­cem­ber when a re­sound­ing de­feat was clear. She now is urg­ing Par­lia­ment to sup­port it so Bri­tain doesn’t leave the EU on March 29 with­out a deal, which would threaten trade, jobs and eco­nomic growth.

While a ma­jor­ity of the 650-seat House of Com­mons ap­pears to op­pose leav­ing the EU with no deal, there is no agree­ment on what al­ter­na­tive to pur­sue.

Straw polls show more than 200 law­mak­ers back May’s deal, while about 100 sup­port a no-deal exit and other fac­tions ad­vo­cate a “soft Brexit” that keeps Bri­tain close to the EU or a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

The BBC es­ti­mates that May’s deal is likely to be sup­ported by about 240 law­mak­ers, far short of the num­ber needed for pas­sage.

As ev­i­dence for the claim that law­mak­ers might block the exit, Bar­clay cited a par­lia­men­tary vote last week that will push the gov­ern­ment to come up with a Plan B within three work­ing days if May’s deal fails. That’s much sooner than would have oth­er­wise been the case.

“Uncer­tainty in terms of what will hap­pen in the House has in­creased,” Bar­clay told the BBC. “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.”

At the very least, there is a grow­ing chance Par­lia­ment may seek to post­pone Bri­tain’s de­par­ture date while politi­cians work on a new plan.

Michael Roth, a Ger­man deputy for­eign min­is­ter, was quoted Sun­day as telling the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Son­ntagszeitung news­pa­per that if the British gov­ern­ment asked for an ex­ten­sion to Bri­tain’s with­drawal date, “we will treat it very re­spon­si­bly.”

But he added that it would pose “quite com­pli­cated ques­tions, such as Bri­tain’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Euro­pean elec­tion.”

The EU is wait­ing to see the out­come of Tues­day’s vote — and the mar­gin of the ex­pected de­feat — be­fore con­sid­er­ing its re­sponse, of­fi­cials said.

NO-CON­FI­DENCE VOTE

Also Sun­day, op­po­si­tion La­bor Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn gave his clear­est in­di­ca­tion yet that his party is ready to call a no-con­fi­dence bal­lot within days of May los­ing a U.K. par­lia­men­tary vote on her exit deal.

Speak­ing on the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show, Cor­byn said a con­fi­dence vote would be brought “at a time of our choos­ing, but it is go­ing to be soon, don’t worry about that.”

Cor­byn is seek­ing to top­ple the gov­ern­ment by forc­ing a gen­eral elec­tion. Un­der British elec­toral law, May’s Con­ser­va­tives would have two weeks after a lost con­fi­dence vote to form a new gov­ern­ment. If they fail, an elec­tion would be called.

The La­bor leader faces a ma­jor hur­dle: His chances of win­ning a con­fi­dence vote are slim, as he’d have to gain the sup­port of both Tory and North­ern Ir­ish law­mak­ers, who fear a La­bor takeover of gov­ern­ment. If a con­fi­dence vote failed, he’d be un­der pres­sure to back a sec­ond exit ref­er­en­dum, risk­ing a back­lash from the many La­bor sup­port­ers who voted to leave the EU.

Cor­byn said he’d pre­fer to see a ne­go­ti­ated deal than a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. La­bor says it wants a full, per­ma­nent cus­toms union with the EU, some­thing that would ap­pall many pro-exit To­ries, though se­nior min­is­ters are now said to be urg­ing May to ask Cor­byn for help in the hope of agree­ing on a joint plan.

A no-deal exit would be “cat­a­strophic” for in­dus­try and trade, Cor­byn told the BBC. “We will do ev­ery­thing we can to pre­vent a no-deal exit.”

If the no-con­fi­dence ef­fort were suc­cess­ful, the La­bor Party would likely also re­quest a de­lay in the exit process.

“Clearly, if a gen­eral elec­tion takes place and a La­bor Party gov­ern­ment comes in… there would have to be time for those ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Cor­byn said.

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