‘We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum…’
(Andrew Atkinson, Bloomberg News) LONDON ––Theresa May enters one of her most tumultuous weeks as prime minister as the U.K. Parliament prepares to decide the fate of her Brexit deal, and possibly her tenure as prime minister.
With her agreement facing almost certain defeat in a House of Commons vote Tuesday, May will make an eleventh-hour appeal with a warning that there’s now more of a chance that members of Parliament will block Brexit than of the U.K. leaving the European Union without a deal.
“What if we found ourselves in a situation where Parliament tried to take the U.K. out of the EU in opposition to a remain vote? People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm,” May will say in a speech in Stoke-on-Trent on Monday, according to extracts released by her office. “We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.”
Her choice of Stoke is significant. The city in central England, 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Parliament in London and once the heart of the global pottery industry, voted more emphatically to leave the EU than anywhere else in the U.K. in the 2016 referendum.
May’s warning comes after the Sunday Times reported that some lawmakers are planning to seize control of the legislative agenda from the government in an act that would allow Parliament to extend the March 29 Brexit deadline or even overturn the decision to leave the EU.
May has a day to save a deal with the EU that’s taken almost two years to negotiate, but the task looks virtually hopeless. She appears no closer to getting the backing she needs than she was in December, when the deal was pulled before it could be rejected. The question now is what she should do next.
A defeat would leave the U.K. on course to leave the EU with no new trade arrangements in place. According to Bank of England analysis, such a chaotic split could hammer the pound and home prices, and plunge the country into a recession worse than the financial crisis a decade ago.
Brexit backers argue that May should go back to the EU and renegotiate the most contentious parts of the deal before putting a revised agreement to a vote, though Brussels has indicated that there’s little room for compromise. Senior ministers are also said to be urging May to seek a joint plan with the opposition Labour Party, raising the possibility of a significantly softer Brexit.
Labour, meanwhile, wants to topple the government by forcing a general election, and leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated Sunday that his party could bring a no-confidence ballot within days if May loses the vote on her Brexit deal. His chance of victory is slim, however, and failure would put him under pressure to back the growing cross-party calls for a second referendum. That, in turn, risks a backlash from the many Labour supporters who voted to leave the European Union.
The EU is waiting to see the outcome of Tuesday’s vote ––and the margin of the expected defeat –– before considering its response, officials said, with some predicting that May will have to delay Brexit.
A margin of defeat exceeding about 60 lawmakers would probably mean the agreement is close to death and negotiations are in uncharted waters, several EU officials said. If there is a narrower defeat, the EU may consider new ways to make the deal palatable to get it passed in Parliament.
The EU is expected to publish a letter on Monday in which it will reiterate that the so-called Irish backstop arrangement, if it is triggered, will only be temporary. But the contents are unlikely to appease Brexit supporters who fear that the U.K. will end up being tied to EU trade rules indefinitely.
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