British foreign secretary: Brexit could be lost if May's deal is rejected

Kenny Grant
March 12, 2019

Senior Conservative lawmakers advised the prime minister in phone conversations that she should delay the vote and put forward a motion describing a divorce agreement that would finally heal divisions over the issue within May's own party, according to The Times.

What will parliament vote on?

However three Cabinet ministers - Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke - have already made clear they would vote to take no-deal off the table.

Concerns over the border measure were the main reason Britain's parliament rejected the deal in January. This would force the government to ask Brussels for a technical delay to Article 50, the mechanism for leaving the European Union which was triggered on March 29 two years ago. Critics warn that such an exit would cause an economic shock, but some Brexit supporters say it is the only way to break free from Brussels.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the only talks that mattered now were "between the government in London and the Parliament in London", indicating very little scope for concessions from the EU side ahead of Tuesday's vote.

"What you've seen recently is much more movement towards May credibly threatening no Brexit, which is reinforced by the Labour Party now endorsing, under certain conditions, a second referendum".

Lawmakers will spend several hours on Tuesday debating the prime minister's deal. Markets will slump if this starts to look likely.

May also said that the United Kingdom would make a separate political declaration that the backstop would no longer apply if talks on a future trade deal collapse.

What if Parliament votes down May's deal?

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"Tonight we will be laying two new documents to the House - a joint legally binding instrument on the withdrawal agreement and a joint statement to supplement the political declaration", he added. However, their political power in demonstrating support for an alternative route could be hard to ignore for May.

The government's motion, due to be voted on by MPs on Tuesday, refers to a unilateral declaration setting out the sovereign action the United Kingdom would take to ensure the backstop would only be applied temporarily.

May warned last week that any delay could mean "we may never leave the European Union at all".

In contrast, Mr Hunt indicated he would vote to keep open the option of no-deal to maintain leverage in the negotiations with Brussels.

The exact details of this vote are not yet known, including which way May will instruct her Conservative Party to vote.

The margin of defeat could be even worse this time, because her strategy of brinksmanship, which the Prime Minister has tried to hold for more than two years, has all but fallen apart.

That has been a major defect in the Brexit plan since its inception; May's ability to work around it ended when her snap election backfired and she wound up relying on the DUP for her parliamentary majority.

Talks in Brussels have been deadlocked and over the weekend, it became clear that May was unable to convince European Union leaders to agree to changes she was seeking to the withdrawal agreement, particularly on the so-called "backstop", the protocol to ensure an open border is maintained in the island of Ireland. If that falls, lawmakers could then vote on Thursday on a short delay to Brexit.

The wording of the motion that parliament votes on will be subject to amendments.

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