LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May, facing a humiliating defeat in a crucial vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday, pleaded with U.K. lawmakers to support her or face the “real risk” of Britain’s departure from the European Union being delayed or even canceled.
She warned opponents who won’t back her agreement because of the inclusion of a so-called backstop provision to ensure the post-Brexit Irish border stays open that there’s no deal available from the EU without it. “That isn’t going to change, however the House votes tomorrow,” she said Monday in Parliament.
The deal is necessarily a “compromise” and neither side wants the backstop, she said, even as she acknowledged the “assurances and clarifications” she secured from the EU fell short of what some politicians wanted – potentially laying the ground for going back to Brussels to ask for more.
“It’s not perfect,” May said. “But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: ‘Did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union, did we safeguard our security, our economy and our union, or did we let the British people down?’”
The beleaguered prime minister was speaking after a day of maneuvering that saw rival proposals put forward by different parts of her Conservative Party. According to people familiar with the matter, the government is considering supporting a backbench amendment to May’s Brexit motion that would ensure the backstop ends on Dec. 31 2021.
But the change, proposed by Tory member of Parliament Andrew Murrison, would put May on collision course with the EU, which argues that an end date would negate its benefit as an insurance policy.
In any case, the deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, Sammy Wilson, said the amendment didn’t offer enough to win their support. The backing of the DUP, which props up May’s minority government, is essential if May is to win other Brexit-backers over.
The talk in Parliament is not about whether May will lose the vote, but by how much. Even though some lawmakers said they would now back the prime minister, the numbers were coming in a slow drip rather than in the deluge May needs to win.
“The prime minister has completely and utterly failed” to get the legal assurances she promised the House of Commons when she pulled the vote in December, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told lawmakers. “Absolutely nothing has changed.”
The DUP confirmed it will join the opposition Labour Party and vote against the deal after May failed to get legally binding agreements on the backstop.
Tory Nick Boles published a proposed new law that would give May’s government “a few weeks” to win the support of Parliament and the EU for its Plan B – whatever it is. If that fails, the Liaison Committee of senior MPs would then have “a few weeks” to find an alternative plan that a majority in the Commons could support Gareth Johnson quit as a government whip, telling the prime minister that the backstop “ensures we will be fettered in our ability to negotiate trade deals with other nations in the future.”
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