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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Theresa May says she’ll still have her job after Brexit vote

British prime minister is battling to persuade lawmakers to support the divorce agreement between Britain and the EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to say what she will do if Parliament rejects her Brexit deal. Bloomberg
British Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to say what she will do if Parliament rejects her Brexit deal. Bloomberg

British Prime Minister Theresa May brushed aside questions on Monday about whether she will resign if her Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament next week, saying she’s confident she will still have a job after the crucial vote.

Mrs May is battling to persuade lawmakers to support the divorce agreement between Britain and the European Union when the House of Commons votes on December 11. Opposition parties say their representatives will vote against the deal and so have dozens of lawmakers from her Conservative Party.

Defeat would leave the UK facing a messy, economically damaging ‘no-deal’ Brexit on March 29 and could topple the prime minister, her government or both.

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Theresa May faces fresh crisis over Brexit legal advice

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Mrs May predicted Monday that, despite the blowback: “I will still have a job in two weeks’ time.”

“My job is making sure that we do what the public asked us to: we leave the EU, but we do it in a way that is good for them,” she told broadcaster ITV.

The prime minister has consistently refused to say what she plans to do if – as widely predicted – the British Parliament rejects the deal her government reached with the EU.

“I’m focusing on... getting that vote and getting the vote over the line,” she said.

Politicians on both sides of Britain’s EU membership debate oppose the agreement that Mrs May struck with the bloc – Brexiteers, because it keeps Britain bound closely to the EU, and pro-EU politicians, because it erects barriers between the UK and its biggest trading partner.

Mrs May’s opponents argue that Britain can renegotiate the deal for better terms.

But the British government and the EU insist that the agreement, which took a year and a half to negotiate, is the only one on the table and rejecting it would mean leaving the bloc without a deal.

“There is no plan B,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Mr Rutte cited the “red lines” drawn by both sides during negotiations, including the UK’s refusal to accept the free movement of people between Britain and the EU, and the need to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland.

“When you take all these red lines into account, it’s simply impossible to come up with something different than we have currently, the deal on the table,” Mr Rutte said, on the sidelines of a UN climate conference in Poland.

Mrs May’s government is also facing a battle in Parliament over confidential advice from the country’s top law officer about the Brexit deal.

Under opposition pressure, the government promised last month to show Parliament the legal briefing that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox gave Mrs May’s Cabinet. Such advice is usually kept confidential.

On Monday, the government published a 43-page document outlining Mr Cox’s legal opinion, but the opposition Labour Party is demanding the attorney general’s full, original advice. The party says it will accuse the government of being in contempt of Parliament if it does not release it.

The most contentious legal issue arising from the Brexit agreement is how Britain could escape a "backstop" provision that would keep the country in a customs union with the EU to guarantee an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The backstop is intended as a temporary measure, but pro-Brexit lawmakers say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

The legal advice confirmed that Britain cannot unilaterally opt out of the backstop, which requires either an agreement with the EU or a decision by an arbitration panel.

In a statement to Parliament, Mr Cox confirmed that “there is no unilateral right of either party to terminate this arrangement”.

Mr Cox said he would have preferred that not to be the case, but that he supported the divorce deal as “a sensible compromise”.

“The divorce and separation of nations from long and intimate unions, just as of human beings, stirs high emotion and calls for wisdom and forbearance,” he said.