Wednesday 19 June 2019

'Profound challenge': May warns Brexit opponents they are running risks with economy and democracy

MPs are preparing to return to Westminster with a crunch Commons vote looming on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Theresa May has a fight on her hands to get her deal approved. Photo: REUTERS
Theresa May has a fight on her hands to get her deal approved. Photo: REUTERS

By David Hughes, Press Association Chief Political Correspondent

Theresa May said the UK faced a moment of "profound challenge" as she urged MPs to get behind her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister warned critics from both sides of the Brexit divide that they risked damaging the economy and trust in democracy by opposing her plan.

As MPs prepare to return to Westminster with a crunch Commons vote looming on the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out with Brussels, the Prime Minister said no alternative plan was able to respect the 2016 referendum result, protect jobs and provide certainty to citizens and businesses.

Addressing opponents on both the Remain and Brexiteer wings of the Commons, she said: “There are some in Parliament who, despite voting in favour of holding the referendum, voting in favour of triggering Article 50 and standing on manifestos committed to delivering Brexit, now want to stop us leaving by holding another referendum.

“Others across the House of Commons are so focused on their particular vision of Brexit that they risk making a perfect ideal the enemy of a good deal.

“Both groups are motivated by what they think is best for the country, but both must realise the risks they are running with our democracy and the livelihoods of our constituents.”

The Prime Minister said that the British “genius for pragmatism” had always found a way forward which commands consensus at “moments of profound challenge” such as this.

Officially slated for the week of January 14, the Commons vote is widely expected to be held on January 15.

Speaking to the Press Association in Los Angeles, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “Parliament needs to understand that if we’re not able to come to Parliament and get a deal, then we may end up leaving the EU with no deal.

“Most people seem to say that’s not what they want to see, well they better make up their minds before we get to a week on Tuesday because that’s going to be a very key decision-making point.”

In a Mail on Sunday article, Mrs May said Labour’s approach under Jeremy Corbyn had been based on a “cynical tissue of incoherence, designed to avoid difficult decisions”.

The Prime Minister was forced to postpone a vote on her plans in December after it became clear the deal would be rejected by MPs.

With Tory rebels and her DUP allies expected to oppose it, the Prime Minister hopes to win round some Labour MPs alarmed at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

“MPs of every party will face the same question when the division bell rings,” Mrs May said.

“It is a question of profound significance for our democracy and for our constituents.

“The only way to both honour the result of the referendum and protect jobs and security is by backing the deal that is on the table.”

But former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood said a no-deal Brexit “will work just fine” despite the “idiotic” warnings about potential shortages of food and medicines.

On the other side of the Tory divide, pro-EU veteran Ken Clarke said Mrs May’s deal – which he would be prepared to support – is “dying”, and he would be “amazed” if the mood of MPs had changed over the Christmas break.

Instead, he called for Brexit to be postponed until a way forward can be found.

MPs will resume debate on the Brexit deal on Wednesday ahead of a vote the following week.

Mrs May is said to be considering offering MPs further safeguards about the Irish backstop – the measure aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland which critics fear could leave the UK indefinitely bound into a customs union with the EU and prevent future trade deals with countries around the world.

But former Brexit minister Steve Baker rejected the proposals, saying they were a “tedious and desperate attempt to rescue an unsalvageable deal”.

The Daily Mail reported the PM is working on a “double lock” to put a time limit on the backstop.

Officials are reportedly drawing up a possible Commons amendment to the Brexit vote which would give Parliament the right to serve notice to the EU of an intention to quit the backstop after 12 months if Brussels fails to agree a trade deal with the UK that would resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, Mrs May is also seeking a written guarantee from the EU that a trade deal can be agreed within 12 months of the transition period ending.

Brexiteer Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he could not support the deal, and added: “Many of us in the country just want to move on and talk about something else, we want to be out and we know it will work just fine.”

Former chancellor Mr Clarke said the Article 50 notification – the formal EU legal process for Brexit – should be revoked to prevent a no-deal situation.

He told Today it was “highly unlikely” Mrs May’s deal would get through Parliament and “we need more time” to agree on how to proceed.

On Sunday, British health minister Matthew Hancock said that he hoped the probability of getting the government's Brexit deal approved by parliament have improved over the Christmas break.

"I certainly hope that the chances of the deal going through have improved. I think if people have gone back to their constituencies, as I have, and talked to normal people then they will have found an overwhelming sense of 'please can we just get on with it'," he told Sky News.

Press Association

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