British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday launched a desperate appeal to her Conservative Party lawmakers to unite behind her in driving through a Brexit agreement that might be palatable to EU leaders.
In a letter to her MPs, May said that she is planning to return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this week and plans to speak to the leader of every EU member state in the days ahead.
Gaining headway in Brussels will depend largely on whether she can show a united front at home.
May urged her party to “move beyond what divides us” and sacrifice “personal preferences” to unite in the “higher service of the national interest.”
However, the Times newspaper suggested May’s rhetoric would not work.
Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the euroskeptic European Research Group, told his colleagues that Brussels and London were pretending to negotiate while running down the clock so May’s Brexit deal can be forced through parliament, it reported.
Lawmakers on Jan. 15 rejected her deal by a huge margin and another vote last week failed after a hardline group of Brexit-backing MPs shot down any hopes May had of getting it approved.
Getting that bloc, while in the minority of the parliamentary party, to break bread with moderates has proved elusive to the point of hopeless since May triggered the Article 50 exit clause almost two years ago.
One senior member of May’s administration has said that she probably has two weeks to save her deal before the British House of Commons takes the process out of her hands, in a vote scheduled for Wednesday next week.
May urged all sides to make compromises, or risk a situation in which Brexit does not happen — a state of affairs that she said would undermine British democracy.
Showing some semblance of unity in Westminster is key to May’s hopes of convincing the EU’s 27 leaders that she can get a version of her deal through the House of Commons. The current stalemate threatens to force Britain out of the EU with no deal on March 29.
The only group since the Brexit vote to have shown much unity so far is the EU. It has not budged from its mantra that there is “no Plan B” and has stuck to the backstop — the arrangement designed to ensure that there is no physical border on the island of Ireland.
However, ideas are being tested to try and help May win support at Westminster.
On Tuesday, British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is to set out what changes are needed to ensure that the UK is not trapped in the backstop arrangement indefinitely.
One idea being mooted could involve fleshing out a set of agreed criteria that could allow the UK to exit the backstop after regular reviews.
Pro-Brexit members of May’s Cabinet would be willing to keep Britain tied to the EU’s customs regime for as long as five years in an effort to break the deadlock in divorce talks, people familiar with the matter said earlier.
May upped the rhetoric to finish off her letter.
“Our party can do what it has done so often in the past: move beyond what divides us and come together behind what unites us; sacrifice if necessary our own personal preferences in the higher service of the national interest; and rise to the level of events in a way that restores the faith of the British people in our political process,” she said.
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