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