May’s premiership fades as her Brexit gambit fails

Updated May 23, 2019

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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final Brexit gambit was in tatters on Wednesday after her offer of a vote on a second referendum and closer trading arrangements failed to win over either opposition lawmakers or many in her own party. — AFP/File
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final Brexit gambit was in tatters on Wednesday after her offer of a vote on a second referendum and closer trading arrangements failed to win over either opposition lawmakers or many in her own party. — AFP/File

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final Brexit gambit was in tatters on Wednesday after her offer of a vote on a second referendum and closer trading arrangements failed to win over either opposition lawmakers or many in her own party.

Nearly three years since Britain voted 52 per cent to 48pc to leave the European Union, May is trying one last time to get her divorce deal approved by the British parliament before her crisis-prone premiership ends.

May again appealed to lawmakers to get behind her, offering the prospect of a possible second referendum on the agreement and closer trading arrangements with the EU as incentives to what she called the only way to prevent a so-called no deal Brexit.

But the backlash was fierce. Both ruling Conservative and opposition Labour lawmakers criticised May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill, or WAB, legislation which implements the terms of Britain’s departure. Some upped efforts to oust her and there were reports that her own ministers could move against her.

The impasse in London means it is unclear how, when or even if Britain will leave the European club it joined in 1973. The current deadline to leave is Oct 31.

Despite the criticism, May stood firm, urging lawmakers to back the bill and then have a chance to make changes to it, so they can have more control over the final shape of Brexit.

“In time another prime minister will be standing at this despatch box,” she said, acknowledging that her time as prime minister was drawing to a close.

“But while I am here, I have a duty to be clear with the House [of Commons] about the facts. If we are going to deliver Brexit in this parliament we are going to have to pass a Withdrawal Agreement Bill,” she told parliament, where many of her critics left the chamber allowing some of her backers to offer support for her argument to pass the Withdrawal Bill.

Asked by euro-sceptic lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg whether she really believed in the new deal she had proposed or whether she was simply going through the motions, May said: “I don’t think I would have been standing here at the despatch box and be in receipt of some of the comments I have been in receipt of from colleagues on my own side and across the house if I didn’t believe in what I was doing,” she said.

Britain’s crisis over Brexit has stunned allies and foes alike, and with the deadlock in London, the world’s fifth largest economy faces an array of options including an exit with a deal to smooth the transition, a no-deal exit, an election or a second referendum.

The pound was on track for its longest-ever losing streak against the euro as some traders said they saw the rising chance of a no-deal Brexit. Those fears pushed investors into the relatively safety of government bonds — particularly those that offer protection against a spike in inflation.

Despite the signs of some support in a near empty parliament, her move towards lawmakers who want to stay in the EU incensed many in her party. “The proposed second reading of the WAB is clearly doomed to failure so there really is no point wasting any more time on the prime minister’s forlorn hope of salvation,” Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative lawmaker, said.

“She’s got to go.”

More Conservative lawmakers handed over letters to the 1922 Committee, a Conservative group that can make or break party leaders, to demand a no-confidence vote in May, whose strategy to leave the EU has been left in tatters.

Local reporters said there were rumours that cabinet ministers were starting a move against her.

Asked about the pressure to resign, her spokesman said: “The PM is focused on the job in hand and what the last 24 hours or so have proved, it is a big one.”

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019