May risks losing control over Brexit

LAST-DITCH EFFORT::The British prime minister on Monday abandoned a deal that she had worked on for 18 months in a bid to win over hardline Brexit backers in her party


Wed, Jan 30, 2019 - Page 7

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday faced losing control of Brexit to the British parliament in a series of crucial votes that would shape the UK’s split from the EU.

Despite a last-minute gamble aimed at buying off rebels in her Conservative Party, May was to face a knife-edge battle to block a proposal that would hand parliament the power to delay the process and prevent a “no deal” Brexit.

The leadership of the opposition Labour Party was preparing to order its MPs to vote for the amendment, put forward by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles as May scrambled for a compromise all sides could support.

In a dramatic meeting on Monday evening, May effectively abandoned the agreement she has spent the past 18 months negotiating with the EU and threw the weight of her government behind a separate proposal to rewrite the deal.

May urged hundreds of Conservative politicians crammed into a room inside parliament to support another amendment that would strip out the so-called backstop plan for the Irish border, wrecking a compromise she has agreed to with the EU in the hope of securing one with her own party.

May’s move was intended to win over hardline Brexit backers who on Jan. 15 joined with opposition MPs to reject her EU divorce package.

It was the biggest government defeat in the British House of Commons for more than a century, and prompted two weeks of soul-searching and debate over how to resolve the impasse inside the government.

Previously implacable factions in the Conservative Party have even held private talks to seek a consensus around asking the EU for a modified backstop and an extra year’s transition.

Whatsapp discussions between politicians, including leading euroskeptic Jacob Rees-Mogg and pro-EU Nicky Morgan, were made public on Monday night and confirmed by the two sides.

If the House of Commons does not ratify a Brexit agreement, the UK would on March 29 tumble out of the bloc with no new trading terms in place.

That risks a recession, a hit to the pound and a crash in housing prices, according to official analysis from British authorities.

May, who was to close yesterday’s debate, hoped her Tory party would say clearly what it wants to change in the deal she has struck with the EU.

Her aim was to send a message to Brussels that the Irish border backstop must be ditched or radically redrafted and persuade the EU to change position so a new deal can pass through parliament.

According to an EU official, though, the amendment proposed by Graham Brady has little chance of persuading the bloc to make compromises.

The proposal appears to only leave scope for the backstop to be overtaken by a better solution — of which there is no evidence of one at this point, the official said.

It would be “extraordinarily difficult” for the UK to win concessions or remove the backstop unless it moves its own red lines, the official added.

May, who was to meet with her Cabinet yesterday morning, also was to face major hurdles when her latest gambit was to be put to a test in a vote expected in the Commons later in the day.