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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Theresa May faces revolt over Brexit deal

Hardliners have queued up to slate surrender over UK’s departure from the European Union

UK premier Theresa May faces a tough task to persuade parliament to back her Brexit deal. AP
UK premier Theresa May faces a tough task to persuade parliament to back her Brexit deal. AP

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces the sternest test of her leadership this week as she seeks to sell a Brexit deal on Wednesday that critics have described as a surrender to the European Union.

Critics ranging from the Northern Irish allies of her government, the hard-line anti-EU faction of her party and the official opposition have all criticised a deal struck with Brussels that first emerged in sketchy detail last night.

The premier began late on Tuesday to sell the deal to senior party colleagues amid clear signs of concerted and organised opposition to the deal, which has to be approved by parliament and the remaining 27 members of the world’s largest trading bloc before it can come into force.

Jeffrey Donaldson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up Mrs May’s government after she called a disastrous snap election last year, said that his party would not be backing the deal.

“This deal has the potential to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and that is not something we can support,” he told the BBC.

The party’s enforcer responsible for mustering votes in parliament, chief whip Julian Smith said he was confident the deal would pass when put to a crucial Commons vote, despite the immediate and outspoken opposition to the deal.

“We’re hopefully on the cusp of beginning to get to the point where we're delivering on Brexit in a really practical way,” he said.

The anti-EU faction within the party, however, called for MPs to reject the deal – despite increasing the likelihood of a no-deal, which would spook markets and business seeking the closest possible ties with the EU.

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David Davis – who once led Mrs May’s Brexit strategy, but quit over the direction of negotiations – said: "Cabinet and all Conservative MPs should stand up, be counted and say no to this capitulation."

His views were echoed by leading Brexiteer colleagues Boris Johnson – the former foreign secretary who followed Mr Davis out of the door of cabinet – and fellow ruling party MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mr Rees-Mogg indicated late on Tuesday that he would not be seeking to oust Mrs May in the next 24 hours, leaving the option open for a coup in the short-term.

Senior figures in the opposition Labour Party indicated that it would not support the government’s Brexit deal and kept the door open to the possibility that Brexit could be reversed in a potential second referendum.

Labour’s business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey said the May settlement was unlikely to be a “good deal” for the country.

"Theresa May had a moral duty, really, to deliver a Brexit that put quality of life of our communities right at its heart, and based on the shambles we have seen, I don't think this has been achieved and she has let many people around the country down today," she told the BBC.

She said Brexit could be stopped with the agreement of the government, people and EU but “that is a very, very hypothetical question looking into the future”.

A former leader of the ruling Conservative Party, William Hague, said that a second referendum would be "the most divisive and bitter political conflict in this country in 100 years, and very economically damaging". The government has repeatedly ruled out a second vote on the outcome of the referendum that ‘leavers’ won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Mr Hague said the DUP could have to face the fact that Brexit might never happen if it didn’t sign up to Mrs May’s settlement deal.

Nicola Sturgeon – the First Minister of Scotland where a clear majority voted in 2016 to stay in the EU – said that the government should return to get a better deal from Brussels if it could not command a majority of support in parliament.