May finds lit­tle in­ter­est in pitch for Brexit deal

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN­JAMIN PLACKETT

LON­DON | There are no sta­di­ums full of plac­ard-wav­ing sup­port­ers, no gi­ant street ral­lies for Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May these days as she makes a last-ditch ef­fort to sell her Brexit deal to guide her coun­try’s de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union.

In­stead, the be­lea­guered leader has to make do with a lack­lus­ter wel­come and the prospect that her coun­try will crash out of the EU with­out a map for the way for­ward.

Case in point: a leather fac­tory near Glas­gow last week, where work­ers largely car­ried on with their du­ties in the back­ground as Mrs. May con­ducted in­ter­views on cam­era. The work­ers were more in­ter­ested in fin­ish­ing their shifts than lis­ten­ing to the prime min­is­ter sell her vi­sion of how the coun­try will nav­i­gate its mo­men­tous di­vorce from the EU in a lit­tle more than three months.

Fac­ing daunt­ing odds in Par­lia­ment, the Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter hit the road last week on a two-day trip through the Celtic coun­tries of the United King­dom, start­ing at a win­ter fair in Wales, fol­lowed by a univer­sity in North­ern Ire­land and fin­ish­ing at a fac­tory in Scot­land. But an­a­lysts say the tour only

un­der­scored the po­lit­i­cal prob­lem of her com­pro­mise deal: The many war­ring sides of the Brexit bat­tle fi­nally found com­mon ground in their dis­like for her hand­i­work.

On the hus­tings and in Par­lia­ment, Mrs. May’s strat­egy to date has been to brazen it out, pro­ject­ing an air of con­fi­dence in the face of wide­spread doubts. She was at it again this week, par­ry­ing op­po­si­tion com­plaints in Par­lia­ment and re­fus­ing even to spec­u­late on her own fu­ture should her Brexit deal go down to de­feat.

“I’m fo­cus­ing on … get­ting that vote and get­ting the vote over the line,” she told mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

But as the House of Com­mons Wed­nes­day con­ducted the sec­ond of five full days of de­bate on her Brexit plan, po­lit­i­cal prog­nos­ti­ca­tors and pun­ters say the odds are strongly against Mrs. May, with much of the com­men­tary fo­cused on what comes next when — not if — her plan is voted down.

Par­lia­ment isn’t mak­ing her job any eas­ier in the run-up to the vote. In a U.K. par­lia­men­tary vot­ing first, a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers said Tues­day that the gov­ern­ment is in con­tempt of Par­lia­ment for re­fus­ing to pub­lish the full le­gal ad­vice from the coun­try’s top law of­fi­cer about Brexit.

The House of Com­mons voted 311-293 in fa­vor of a mo­tion by op­po­si­tion par­ties, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported, and the gov­ern­ment quickly said it would now pub­lish the en­tire anal­y­sis.

Mrs. May hasn’t eased up on her sales pitch, even though fore­cast­ers say she is far short of the ma­jor­ity she needs in a par­lia­men­tary show­down set for Dec. 11.

De­spite the gov­ern­ment’s own fore­casts, the prime min­is­ter told the Scot­tish fac­tory work­ers that her deal would be a boon for the econ­omy. “It’s a deal that is good for Scot­tish em­ploy­ers and will pro­tect jobs,” she said.

But many in the crowd were not buy­ing what she was selling.

“We’re in a bad place. The eco­nomic fore­casts sug­gest we’re not go­ing to be bet­ter off with this Brexit deal or any other,” said Thomas Hills, 29, a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer from North York­shire.

If Mrs. May’s pro­posed di­vorce deal with the EU is ap­proved, “a lot of peo­ple will be left feel­ing an­gry,” said Tim Oliver, an an­a­lyst at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics and Po­lit­i­cal Science.

“But then,” he added, “a lot of peo­ple will be left feel­ing an­gry what­ever course is taken.”

Mrs. May’s un­usual whis­tle-stop tour was de­signed to whip up en­thu­si­asm ahead of the par­lia­men­tary vote, but at best she ap­pears to have gained com­mis­er­a­tion rather than fer­vent sup­port.

Res­i­dents in the town of Newry in North­ern Ire­land, which sits near the bor­der with the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land, voted to re­main in the EU. Some told The Guardian news­pa­per of their sym­pa­thy for the prime min­is­ter even though they don’t like her deal.

“It means we’d still be gov­erned by Euro­pean law. And the back­stop could ex­tend to in­fin­ity and beyond. We’d be bet­ter off with no deal,” said Phil Wal­lace, 52, a scaf­fold­ing con­trac­tor in North­ern Ire­land who sup­ports Brexit. “But I rec­og­nize she didn’t have an easy job.”

Sym­pa­thy vote

Some be­lieve that get­ting the sym­pa­thy vote is part of Mrs. May’s strat­egy, es­pe­cially after the luke­warm wel­come she re­ceived on the cheer­lead­ing Brexit tour. Her best hope, pun­dits say, is to per­suade just enough mem­bers of Par­lia­ment that her deal with the EU is the worst she could of­fer — ex­cept for ev­ery other con­ceiv­able al­ter­na­tive.

“She is hop­ing to se­cure re­spect for her sto­icism in see­ing this through. She’s faced numer­ous res­ig­na­tions, crit­ics, at­tacks, and failed lead­er­ship chal­lenges. Yet she plods on,” said Mr. Oliver.

Mrs. May’s sup­port­ers said she should not be un­der­es­ti­mated and that her ar­gu­ments are mak­ing head­way as the show­down looms.

“The prime min­is­ter has been chang­ing the pub­lic mood. If you look at what’s been hap­pen­ing in polling, there’s clearly a shift there,” Liam Fox, sec­re­tary of state for in­ter­na­tional trade, told the Reuters news agency late last week.

But while try­ing to win hearts and minds out on the hus­tings, Mrs. May still faces an up­hill bat­tle where it counts: in the House of Com­mons.

Lead­ers of the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party say they will vote against the deal, as will the smaller Scot­tish Na­tion­al­ist Party and the Lib­eral Democrats, who want the U.K. to have a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum and would much rather stay in the EU.

To make mat­ters worse, the proBrexit North­ern Ire­land-based Demo­cratic Union­ist Party — which props up Mrs. May’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in Par­lia­ment — is also re­fus­ing to back the deal. Close to 100 law­mak­ers from both wings of the prime min­ster’s Con­ser­va­tive Party have also said they will vote against her.

This means — un­less the prime min­is­ter can change some minds — that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for Mrs. May’s bill to ad­vance from the House of Com­mons to the House of Lords, said Mr. Oliver. “The par­lia­men­tary arith­metic is too much against it.”

Mean­while, the ar­range­ment to be put to a vote Dec. 11 is not even the fi­nal Brexit bat­tle. The deal is just the terms by which the U.K. will leave the Euro­pean Union, agree­ing to a di­vorce bill for the U.K. of ap­prox­i­mately $49 bil­lion and set­ting rules for trade and trans­porta­tion at the bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land, which will re­main in the EU.

Mrs. May has to get past that hur­dle just to be­gin the de­bate on the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship be­tween Lon­don and Brus­sels.

Mrs. May’s deal means the U.K. would leave the EU in March as planned and en­ter a tran­si­tion pe­riod. Dur­ing the tran­si­tion stage, the U.K. and EU would ne­go­ti­ate their fu­ture re­la­tion­ship, in­clud­ing trade.

“This is in it­self a mine­field that will drag on and which peo­ple in the U.K. have few, if any, ideas about,” said Mr. Oliver.

Pres­i­dent Trump, who has had a prickly re­la­tion­ship at times with the prime min­is­ter, did Mrs. May no fa­vors last week by ex­press­ing open con­cern that her deal could leave Bri­tain tied too closely to the EU’s tar­iff rules to make its own trade deals with other coun­tries such as the United States.

Mrs. May de­nies this. But even some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest crit­ics in the U.K. ac­knowl­edge that he has a point.

The dis­dain for what Mrs. May has brought back from Brus­sels ex­tends beyond the halls of power in West­min­ster. Ac­cord­ing to polling com­pany YouGov, the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tons, re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion, say the pro­posed Brexit deal does not re­spect the re­sult of the 2016 na­tional ref­er­en­dum, in which Bri­tish vot­ers nar­rowly voted to leave the EU.

But the deal’s un­pop­u­lar­ity across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum does not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into a de­sire for Mrs. May to re­sign.

Ac­cord­ing to the same poll, just 27 per­cent of Bri­tons think a dif­fer­ent Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter could achieve a bet­ter deal, and just 19 per­cent think a the­o­ret­i­cal La­bor prime min­is­ter would fare bet­ter.

Mrs. May has even earned some grudg­ing re­spect for her drive to carry on de­spite the odds and the ter­ri­ble hand she has been dealt.

“Just be­cause some­one is bad, you can’t re­place them with noth­ing,” said Pa­trick Ma­son, 40, a soft­ware en­gi­neer from Lon­don. “Show me an al­ter­na­tive Con­ser­va­tive or La­bor can­di­date who could ac­tu­ally slot in and do it in­stead. There’s no one else.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has been pro­ject­ing an air of con­fi­dence in the face of wide­spread doubts about her Brexit deal. She re­fuses to spec­u­late about her fu­ture if the pro­posal fails.

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