British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday will attempt to quell a rebellion in her ruling Conservative Party as she tries to win the power to trigger Brexit.
The House of Commons is set to debate and vote over whether to accept amendments attached by the unelected House of Lords to the draft law granting May the authority to file for divorce from the European Union. Those tweaks would protect the rights of EU nationals already living in the U.K., and guarantee legislators a binding say on the ultimate outcome of the talks.
Keen to maintain the flexibility to negotiate as it wants, the government on Sunday urged opponents, including some on its own side, to overturn the additions. If May prevails she would likely be able to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as soon as Tuesday, although there remain questions over whether she would act so swiftly.
“Please don’t tie the prime minister’s hands in the process of doing that, for things which we expect to attain anyway,” Brexit Secretary David Davis said on BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show.” “It’s inconceivable to me that there wouldn’t be a vote on the outcome.”
Some Tories are withholding their support as they wait to see what assurances the government might be willing to provide during the Commons debate. The two houses must agree on the same version of the bill and so will engage in what’s known as “ping pong” to find common ground. Peers typically give way if the Commons votes against their revisions.
May needs the law to pass so she can meet her pledge to officially start two years of talks with the EU by the end of March.
If the law is backed on Monday, one option being considered is for May to signal this week that she’ll wait until the end of the month to file Article 50, according to two people familiar with the government’s discussions. A statement she’s due to deliver to Parliament on Tuesday would provide one opportunity to do that.
Such a plan would give European leaders room to organize a summit on April 6 at which they would be asked to approve negotiating guidelines for the European Commission. It would also help May clear a series of hurdles while providing greater clarity over her intentions. The Netherlands holds elections on March 15, the Scottish National Party convenes a conference March 17-18, and there’s a celebration in Rome of the EU’s founding treaty on March 25.
Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, told Sky News on Sunday he thinks the government will serve formal notice to the EU on Wednesday or Thursday.
Standing in May’s way are some of her own lawmakers, who may side with the Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the majority of the Lords. May has a narrow majority of 17 in the Commons, meaning her government is vulnerable to defeat if as few as nine Tories flip.
The amendment on the parliamentary vote stands the most chance of garnering support from Tory rebels. Seven Conservatives, including former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, voted for a similar amendment when the Commons debated the bill in February. Another five abstained, including another former chancellor, George Osborne, by not casting a vote.
If May refuses to allow Parliament to have a say on what happens if negotiations break down without an agreement, some Tories may oppose her in Monday’s vote, one potential rebel, Alistair Burt, told Bloomberg on Friday.
“I want the government to give an assurance about Parliament’s role if there is no deal,” Burt said in a telephone interview. “If they can’t, it may not be possible to get in the way of the Lords’ amendment.”
Other potential rebels include former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and former Business Minister Anna Soubry, both of whom have been critical of the government’s approach to Brexit. A lot rides on what Davis tells lawmakers in the debate.
“David Davis has to really address what happens if the government comes back with no deal,” Morgan said on Sunday in a phone interview. “Parliament has to have a proper vote on that,” she said, adding that failure by the government to provide that reassurance could lead to a rebellion.
Soubry backed that up, telling the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” show: “I want a commitment from him that in the event of no deal it will come in to Parliament and Parliament will determine what happens next.”
The government has set aside time on three days this week for a to-and-fro with the Lords.
There are signs the Lords may give in if the Commons rejects the amendments. Dick Newby, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, has said “there are a lot of people in the Lords who think that you can only vote against a bill once.”
Dianne Hayter, a Labour peer who proposed the amendment on the parliamentary vote, told the Lords last week that if Parliament’s two chambers disagree, “we are absolutely clear that ultimately the will of the Commons must prevail.” And Michael Heseltine, the former Cabinet minister fired as a government adviser last week after voting for one of the amendments, said in an ITV interview on Sunday that he wouldn’t oppose what the Commons decides.
Ministers came under further pressure Sunday after a committee of lawmakers urged the government to prepare for a “real possibility” the Brexit negotiations may end without a deal. Failing to plan for such an outcome would amount to a “serious dereliction of duty,” the Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report.
Davis insisted the government is working on contingency plans.
“It’s not just my team, it’s the whole of Whitehall, it’s every single department,” Davis said. “But understand, it’s the contingency plan. The aim is to get a good outcome and we are confident, I’m confident I’ll get a good outcome.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, one of the architects of the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, told ITV’s “Peston on Sunday” that it would be “perfectly OK” and not “apocalyptic” for Britain to walk away without a pact.
Falling out of the EU without a deal would leave Britain with the worst trading terms of any G20 nation with the bloc, according to research published late on Sunday by Open Britain, a group campaigning for a softer Brexit.
“The government’s threat to walk away from negotiations betrays a dangerous complacency about how countries outside the EU currently trade with the EU,’’ Pat McFadden, a Labour lawmaker who backs Open Britain, said in an emailed statement. “The government is flirting, as a negotiating tactic, with an option that poses huge dangers to U.K. industry, services and agriculture.’’Read More...
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