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Theresa May warns that parliament rejection of Brexit deal could leave Britain in EU

This Tuesday, 11 December, MPs will vote on whether they approve May’s Brexit deal.

Image: Matt Dunham via PA Images

Updated Dec 9th 2018, 3:10 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has warned that parliament’s rejection of her Brexit deal could leave Britain in the European Union and bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

The embattled leader’s message came with her government fearing a heavy defeat on Tuesday of the draft withdrawal agreement she signed with Brussels last month.

Media reports said May is under pressure from her cabinet to delay the vote and fly to Brussels to secure more concessions ahead of a planned summit with 27 fellow EU leaders on Thursday and Friday.

But Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the BBC: “The vote is going ahead.”

May said Britain “would truly be in uncharted waters” if the draft struck after nearly two years of tough talks is voted down less than four months before the 29 March Brexit date.

“It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit,” she told the Mail on Sunday.

“We have a leader of the opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a general election, no matter what the cost to the country… I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take.”

‘Out of control’

May is facing her biggest crisis since coming to power a month after the nation voted by a 52-48 margin in June 2016 to leave the world’s largest single market after 46 years.

She is under attack from more strident Brexit backers in her own party as well as europhiles who want either a second referendum or a pact that maintains stronger EU-UK ties than the one offered by May.

Her comments today are aimed at tamping down the hardline Conservative Party revolt led by the likes of her former foreign minister Boris Johnson.

May’s team has been arguing for a number of days that her vision offers the cleanest break between the UK and EU that Brexit supporters can hope for at this late stage.

But Johnson used a column in the Sun on Sunday to argue that “the best way to get a great deal is to prepare for no deal” by rejecting May’s draft.

‘Fails to offer sufficient clarity’

May’s comments today come as MPs delivered a deeply critical report on her Brexit deal. 

The Committee on Exiting the European Union report on the UK government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration outlines that May’s deal fails to offer sufficient clarity or certainty for the future of the UK. 

The report states: “After 20 months of negotiations, we only know the terms of the UK’s departure but not the nature of the future relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister’s deal fails to offer sufficient clarity or certainty about the future.” 

The Political Declaration is deemed “neither detailed nor substantive” in the report. 

“What is clear from the Political Declaration is that the extent of our access to EU markets will depend on the degree to which we adhere to its rules,” the report says. 

In relation to the Irish border, the MPs go on to outline that “there are no realistic, long-term proposals from the government to reconcile maintaining an open border on the island of Ireland with leaving the Single Market and Customs Union”. 

The Withdrawal Agreement contains several contentious clauses that Brexiteers will find hard to swallow but perhaps the most controversial element is the ‘backstop’ plan which keeps Britain in a customs union with the EU until a trade deal is agreed that avoids the need for border checks with Ireland.  

Today’s report states that “activating the backstop would result in immediate barriers to UK-EU trade in goods and services”. 

“By July 2020 if the future relationship is not in place, or one/two years later if the transition/implementation period is extended, the UK could face the threat of significant economic disruption which would reduce its leverage in the negotiations,” it says. 

Furthermore, the report states that it would be “unacceptable for the government not to publish the White Paper on immigration before the vote on 11 December 2018″. 

It argues that “because of the large number of issues crucial to the future of the EU-UK relationship which are still to be decided”, the Brexit process will not be concluded by March 2019. 

The chair of the committee, Hilary Benn MP, said: “It is because the government has refused to face up to the hard choices confronting us that this deal would represent a huge step into the unknown. 

The Political Declaration falls far short of the ‘detailed and substantive’ document promised by former Secretaries of State and by the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier.

“It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or ten years’ time. And with these negotiations having not even having started yet, this could take years to sort out.”
He added that “it is now time for colleagues to decide on the Prime Minister’s deal”. 

“Throughout this process, the Select Committee has always argued for Parliament to be given a full and proper role, and to vote on what has been negotiated. The opportunity to do that is now before us, and I hope this report, with its detailed analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, will help members of all sides of the House make their decision,” Benn said. 

Second vote

Meanwhile, European officials have said they might be able to find a way to offer a token concession in Brussels that May could take back to London and show rebellious MPs.

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But they added that such tinkering cannot alter the basis of the withdrawal agreement itself.

“Theresa May will come to the European summit on 13 and 14 December to ask for a renegotiation and the 27 will tell her no, the texts have been agreed,” an informed European source told AFP on condition on anonymity.

“They will then retreat and work on the (accompanying) protocol or clarify a point that is deemed important so that she can take it back to parliament.”

May would then be expected to submit the touched-up version for a second vote at an unspecified date.

The European Court of Justice could inject still more drama into the Brexit endgame when it rules on Monday whether Britain can unilaterally halt its split from the bloc.

The ECJ could also decide Brexit can only be postponed or suspended by unanimous agreement of the other 27 nations.

May has rejected the idea of putting the brakes on Brexit.

With reporting by © AFP 2018 

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