Britain’s May pins hopes on final June Brexit vote
Theresa May’s Brexit minister said yesterday that her EU withdrawal deal would be “dead” if parliament rejects it for a fourth time next month, after the British premier set the date for what could be the final act of her leadership. May said MPs will vote on legislation to implement the Brexit deal in the week starting June 3, with the aim of getting Britain out of the European Union by the end of July.
But the main opposition Labour party said it will not support the bill without concessions, which have yet to be agreed despite six weeks of talks. May’s Northern Irish allies meanwhile repeated demands for changes to the divorce text, and opposition remains entrenched among many members of her own Conservative party. The prime minister struck a deal on Britain’s exit terms with Brussels in November, but it has been rejected by the House of Commons three times.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said that if it failed again then the “deal is dead in that form”. “I think the House will have to then address a much more fundamental question between whether it will pursue... a nodeal option or whether it will revoke” the entire Brexit process, he said.
Britain was due to leave the EU on March 29 but the political deadlock has caused May to delay it twice, most recently to October 31. Brexit can happen before then, if MPs back the plan. Setting a date for a new vote is a gamble -- if she loses, May cannot hold another in the current parliamentary session. “It’s very hard to see where she goes after a further rebuff,” former Conservative minister and Brexit supporter David Jones said.
But there is huge anger among her Conservative MPs and voters at the delays, and the party is braced for a drubbing at European parliamentary polls next week. May is also under intense pressure to fulfil her promise to disgruntled colleagues to step down once Brexit is secured.
On Thursday, she will meet senior Conservatives who have demanded a detailed timetable for her departure. Her ministers -- many of them already jockeying to replace her -- said this week it was “imperative” that the Brexit deal pass before MPs began their summer holiday, expected at the end of July.
May’s decision to set a date for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill followed a meeting with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday night, which her office described as “constructive”. But Labour has called for “further movement”, and expressed concern that any promises made by May -- for example, to protect workers’ rights after Brexit -- would be ripped up by her successor. “We have serious concerns about negotiating with a government that is in the process of disintegration,” a spokesman said on Wednesday.
However, while stressing Labour MPs would not support the Brexit bill without a deal, he did not rule out the possibility they might abstain. Without Labour’s active opposition, the bill could pass next month. The party could then seek to amend the text as it passes through parliament. Like the Conservatives, Labour is under pressure ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23.
Corbyn has promised to deliver Brexit but growing numbers of his MPs want a second referendum, with an option to stay in the EU. The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage, a key figure in the 2016 referendum campaign, is currently topping opinion polls for the vote.
‘What has changed?’
May’s deal covers Britain’s financial liabilities, the rights of EU citizens, proposals for a transition period and arrangements to keep open the border with Eu-member Ireland after Brexit. Opposition among Conservatives and their Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is focused on the Irish “backstop” plan. This could keep Britain in a customs union with the EU for years after Brexit to avoid border checks that might jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland.
“If the prime minister brings the withdrawal bill to the Commons for a vote the question will be ‘what has changed’?” said DUP lawmaker Nigel Dodds. “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.”