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U.K.’s May under pressure from 2 sides as Brexit crunch looms

Sun., Nov. 12, 2017, 11 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May departs an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press)
British Prime Minister Theresa May departs an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May is caught in a vise of pressure from both sides of the Brexit debate as she tries to get a key plank in the government’s plans for leaving the EU through Parliament.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns this week to the House of Commons, where it will face a flurry of amendments from lawmakers.

The bill is designed to prevent a legal vacuum by converting some 12,000 EU laws into British statute on the day the U.K. leaves the bloc in 2019. Legislators are scheduled to hold several days of debate and votes starting Tuesday.

But many lawmakers claim the bill gives the government too much power to amend legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. They will try to pass amendments to water down those powers.

And opponents of Brexit – both from the opposition and from May’s Conservative Party – will seek to give Parliament a binding vote on the final divorce deal between Britain and the EU.

Meanwhile, supporters of Brexit are pressuring May not to give ground by compromising with the EU or with anti-Brexit lawmakers.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, leading euroskeptics in May’s Cabinet, warned the prime minister in a note to stand firm in the ambition of making Britain “a fully independent self-governing country by the time of the next election” in 2022, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported.

The note published by the newspaper accused some ministers of not preparing for Brexit with “sufficient energy.”

May, weakened by the Conservatives’ poor showing in a snap June election, has little room to maneuver. She relies on a small Northern Ireland party to prop up her minority government and is caught between warring factions in her Cabinet.

She also faces a sexual harassment scandal involving a growing number of politicians and the resignation of two Cabinet ministers so far this month.

Businesses, meanwhile, are clamoring for clarity on what the future relationship between Britain and the bloc will be, as economists warn that the uncertainty is slowing Britain’s economy.

The government’s negotiations with the EU have been slowed by a lack of agreement on the terms of the U.K.’s withdrawal, including how much Britain must pay to meet its financial commitments to the bloc.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says there must be major progress in the next two weeks if EU leaders are to agree at a December summit to move on to discussing trade and future relations.

U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said Sunday that Britain is not about to commit to a firm figure for its Brexit bill.

“It’s taking time, and we will take our time to get to the right answer” he told Sky News.

Davis denied the talks had stalled and said, “There has actually been a huge amount of progress” on what he called “the most complex negotiation probably in history.”