Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Tory rebels hope to kill off May's Brexit deal in 'last-chance' vote

If the British prime minister's withdrawal plans are defeated for the fourth time, she may end up stepping down

If the British Theresa May's withdrawal plans are defeated for the fourth time, she may end up stepping down. AFP
If the British Theresa May's withdrawal plans are defeated for the fourth time, she may end up stepping down. AFP

Brexit-supporting rebels in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party on Wednesday said they would vote down her deal when she brought it back to Parliament next month.

Britain had been due to leave the EU on March 29 but Parliament has three times rejected the withdrawal agreement Mrs May struck with Brussels.

The UK is now scheduled to leave, with or without a deal, by October 31.

Defeat in the vote would probably spell the end of Mrs May's divorce deal and probably her premiership.

Her withdrawal bill will go to parliament for a vote in the week starting June 3, Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay said, just as US President Donald Trump began a divisive state visit to Britain.

“I have talked to colleagues, some of whom voted for it last time, and they think it is dead and they will vote against it this time,” Peter Bone, a Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, told Talk Radio.

“It seems absurd to bring it back. It is the same thing again, again and again.”

Mrs May, who became prime minister in the chaos that followed the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted to leave the EU, is under pressure from some Conservative MPs to set a date for her departure.

The Conservative Party suffered major losses in local elections this month and is trailing in opinion polls before the May 23 European Parliament elections.

Mrs May's spokesman declined to say on Wednesday whether she would resign if she failed again to win parliamentary support for her Brexit deal.

“If the House of Commons does not approve the bill, then the Barnier deal is dead in that form,” Mr Barclay said, referring to the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Mr Barclay said that would leave Parliament with the choice of revoking the decision to leave the EU or exiting without a deal, the default position if no agreement could be reached with the bloc.

“If the House [of Commons] has not passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill then there are growing voices in Europe, not least the French, who want to move on to other issues,” he said.

Nearly three years after the UK voted to leave the EU, politicians still disagree about when, how or if the divorce would take place.

Brexit supporters fear Mrs May’s deal will keep Britain trapped within the EU for years and that it could ultimately pull Northern Ireland towards the bloc.

Before her deal was defeated the last time, by 344 votes to 286 on March 29, Mrs May had promised to resign if it was passed. It had been voted down in January and again in mid-March.

A sticking point has been the Irish backstop, an insurance policy aimed at avoiding post-Brexit controls on the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

“If the prime minister brings the withdrawal bill to the Commons for a vote, the question will be ‘what has changed’?” asked Nigel Dodds, parliamentary leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, a partner to Mrs May’s minority government.

“Unless she can demonstrate something new that addresses the problem of the backstop, then it is highly likely her deal will go down to defeat once again."

Most members of the European Research Group, a large Brexit-supporting faction in the Conservative Party, will vote against Mrs May’s deal, former minister Owen Paterson said.

As positions harden in Parliament, with many wanting to leave the EU without a deal or to stop Brexit altogether, Mrs May has turned to the opposition Labour Party, led by veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, to negotiate a way out of the impasse.

But after more than four weeks of talks, the two leaders appear no closer to agreeing on a common position.

Labour is saying Mrs May had not shifted her position and warned that a future Conservative leader could rip up any deal they struck.

“We have serious concerns about negotiating with a government that is in the process of disintegration and what has been said about what might happen if a new Tory leadership is in charge,” a Labour spokesman said.

But the spokesman said that while the party could not back Mrs May’s deal as it stood, he did not rule out abstaining in the vote, which might allow it to gather enough support to pass.

Updated: May 15, 2019 11:26 PM

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