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Lawmakers look set to vote down May’s Brexit plans

Vidya Ram London | Updated on May 15, 2019 Published on May 15, 2019

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. File Photo   -  Bloomberg

Withdrawal Agreement Bill to be placed before British Parliament next month

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set for a new political showdown in Parliament as MPs across the political spectrum expressed their intention to oppose her Brexit plans, when she attempts to gain their support through a legislation in early June. 

On Tuesday evening, following the latest instalment of cross-party talks with the Labour Party, May said she plans to bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week commencing June 3, thereby setting a tangible deadline for the talks that have continued with little outcome so far. The Bill had once been intended as the legislation that enacted the withdrawal agreement struck between May’s government and the EU, but because that deal has thrice been rejected by MPs, the Prime Minister is attempting a new strategy of pushing for the legislation directly. The date of early June has been set to enable the UK to leave the EU before the start of the summer recess were the legislation to pass.

High-risk strategy

 It is a high-risk strategy: Should the bill be rejected at the second reading, then the legislation could not be put to MPs again within the current Parliament. As things currently stand, the legislation looks set to be defeated. Opposition comes from across the parties. The Labour Party insists for the legislation to be acceptable it must include its demands for customs union membership and strong guarantees around environmental protections and workers rights, with pro-Remain parties such as the Scottish National Party, Change UK, Liberal Democrats and Greens wouldn’t back anything unless it included a specific promise for a second referendum.

Also read: UK PM Theresa May wins reprieve from Tories after difficult talks with Labour

There is also pressure on Labour to insist on a second referendum, which even the party’s shadow secretary for Brexit Keir Starmer has acknowledged. While the government has sought to put a positive spin on the cross-party talks to attempt to forge a route ahead on Brexit, Labour’s take on them has been far more sceptical, with senior figures in the party repeatedly expressing their concerns that the government isn’t willing to compromise. They are also concerned that should May be replaced, her successor might not live up to the commitments made.

At the other end of the spectrum are Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland MPs unhappy with the backstop arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They won’t accept a deal unless this is altered substantially (and the EU has made clear it won’t tolerate changes). Still others want fundamental changes to the deal, believing Britain should otherwise embark on a “no-deal Brexit,” leaving the EU on WTO terms.

‘Nothing new’

 “Unless [the prime minister] 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,” warned Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s parliamentary leader. One Conservative MP, speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, reiterated calls for May to step down. Others have sought reassurances that the government would not give into the Labour demand on a customs union. Speaking in Parliament, May insisted she was committed to delivering Brexit, ending free movement and stopping “vast payments” to the EU, though did not specifically rule out customs union membership.

Losing again could prove disastrous for the Prime Minister, already under heavy pressure to step down and make way for a successor. She is set to meet with the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs (party MPs with no government position) on Thursday, where the issue of succession and her date of departure are likely to dominate. May has so far only said she will step down before the next phase of Brexit negotiations, but with consensus on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal as elusive as ever, the date of this remains highly uncertain.

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Published on May 15, 2019
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