May needs help to make the Brexit Deal work
LONDON (AP) — Facing almost certain defeat, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday postponed a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal, saying she would go back to European Union leaders to seek changes to the divorce agreement.
With EU officials adamant the withdrawal deal is not up for renegotiation, May’s move threw Britain’s Brexit plans into disarray, battered the pound and intensified the country’s political crisis.
Two-and-a-half years after Britain voted to leave the EU, and with departure just over three months away on March 29, the country does not know on what terms it will leave — and whether May will still be Britain’s leader when it does.
May said she would defer the vote so she could seek “assurances” from the EU and bring the deal back to Parliament. She did not set a new date for the vote.
Lawmakers from the opposition — and from May’s Conservative Party — were incredulous.
“The government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray,” said opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading pro-Brexit Conservative, expressed despair.
“It’s not really governing,” he said. “It’s just an awful muddle.”
Monday’s turmoil sent the pound to a 20-month low against the dollar of $1.2550.
It was a new blow for May, who became prime minister after Britain’s 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU. She has been battling ever since — first to strike a divorce deal with the bloc, then to sell it to skeptical British lawmakers.
May insisted the agreement hammered out with the EU after a year and a half of negotiations was “the best deal that is negotiable.” But it has been scorned by lawmakers on all sides of Britain’s debate about Europe.
Derisive laughter erupted in the House of Commons when May claimed there was “broad support” for many aspects of the deal.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers say the deal keeps Britain bound too closely to the EU, while pro-EU politicians say it erects barriers between the U.K. and its biggest trading partner and leaves many details of the future relationship undecided.
The main sticking point is a “backstop” provision that aims to guarantee an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Brexit. The measure would keep Britain under EU customs rules, and is supposed to last until it is superseded by permanent new trade arrangements.
Critics say it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.
May said she would hold talks with EU leaders ahead of a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, seeking “further reassurances” over the backstop.
“Nothing should be off the table,” she said.
EU leaders signaled they are prepared to help Britain, up to a point, but insisted the Brexit agreement could not be changed.
“The deal is the deal,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said. “It’s taken two years to put together. It’s a fair deal for both sides.”
European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate U.K. ratification.”
A key member of the European parliament’s Brexit team, Green lawmaker Philippe Lamberts, predicted May’s shuttle diplomacy would fail to secure changes.
“The only net result of this round of capitals will be an additional amount of CO2 in the atmosphere,” he said.
Despite May’s dogged determination to press on, the tumult leaves her in a precarious position. Conservative rivals are preparing for a potential leadership challenge, and Labour has threatened call for a no-confidence motion in the government.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her Scottish National Party would support an attempt to topple the government and trigger a new election.
“This shambles can’t go on — so how about it?” Sturgeon tweeted at Corbyn.