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PM May prepares for Commons showdown over Brexit

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theresa may
British
Prime Minister Theresa May views a car on a production line
during a visit to the Jaguar Land Rover factory on September 1,
2016 in Solihull, England.

Carl Court
– WPA Pool/Getty Images


  • Theresa May will on Monday reassure MPs that “95% of the
    Withdrawal Agreement and its protocols are now settled” amid
    growing threats to her leadership.
  • A fraught phone call with her Cabinet on Sunday saw ministers
    line up to challenge the prime minister over her handling of
    Brexit negotiations.
  • May appears no closer to solving the Irish backstop impasse,
    with MPs threatening to depose her if she makes further
    concessions to the European Union.
  • To make the prime minister’s week even more difficult, she is
    facing the threat of rebellion from over 40 MPs if she does not
    bow to new demands over the backstop measure within the next 48
    hours.

LONDON — Theresa May will begin another dangerous week pleading
with her MPs for more time to complete Brexit
negotiations after Cabinet ministers revolted further
against plans in a late-night phone call on Sunday.

May will use a statement in the House of Commons on Monday
afternoon to declare that “95% of the Withdrawal Agreement and
its protocols are now settled,” highlight new agreements covering
Cyprus and Gibraltar, and insist there is now “broad agreement on
the structure and scope of the future relationship.”

While the speech is likely to contain no new policy
announcements, it will likely provoke suspicions among restless
Brexiteers that May has made more secret concessions in Brussels
to get a deal over the line.

It could also prove to be a potentially explosive run-in with her
own MPs, a growing number of whom are threatening to trigger a
no-confidence vote in her leadership amid concerns her Brexit
plans are undeliverable.

The threat of rebellion stretches to her own Cabinet, with
ministers thought to be unhappy about May’s recent suggestion
that the transition period could be extended beyond the 21 month
period already agreed.

In a long and difficult conference call on Sunday, Work &
Pensions secretary Ester McVey
reportedly
told the prime minister she was “devastated” by
the transition extension proposal, while Home Secretary Sajid
Javid challenged May to use the threat of a no-deal scenario as
leverage in talks. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also raised
“significant concerns” about both the backstop and extending the
transition, the
Telegraph reports
.


Sajid Javid
Home Secretary Sajid
Javid.

Jack Taylor/Getty
Images


Backstop backlash

As well as the transition period, May will expect
tough questions from MPs on the controversial
“backstop” policy for preserving the frictionless Irish border no
matter what the outcome of Brexit talks.

The prime minister maintains that she will not accept the EU’s
preferred backstop solution of Northern Ireland effectively
remaining in the EU’s customs union and single market after
Brexit, as this would create new checks between Northern Ireland
and the rest of UK. This would enrage a lot of MPs, not least the
10 Democrat Unionist Party MPs who prop up her Conservative
government and are threatening to withdraw their support.

May’s backstop counterproposal is for the UK as a whole to stay
in a customs union with the EU. However, she has already reneged
on a key promise she previously made to Brexiteers, telling EU leaders that
whatever backstop is eventually agreed will not come with a fixed
end date. Conservative MPs fear this will lead to Britain being
trapped in the EU’s customs territory for years to come, unable
to sign new free trade deals.

May’s most recent attempt to break the deadlock — her suggestion
that the UK could extend the transition period “for a few months”
if the UK needed more time to solve the Irish border conundrum —
was met with fury by Tory MPs, who accused May of unnecessarily
delaying Brexit while preparing to hand over more money to the
EU.

MPs threaten rebellion within 48 hours


Steve Baker
Steve Baker MP
Reuters

To make the prime minister’s week even more difficult, she is
facing the threat of rebellion from over 40 Conservative MPs if
she does not bow to new demands over the backstop within the next
48 hours,
the Times reports
.

Downing Street has reportedly commissioned legal advice to
determine whether May must deal with new demands from the
European Research Group of Brexit-supporting MPs who are
attempting to derail the backstop measure with new
legislation. 

Steve Baker, a leading ERG member, has tabled amendments to
government legislation which could stop Northern Ireland being
placed in a different regulatory and customs territory from Great
Britain without a vote in the Northern Irish parliament in
Stormont.

The amendment will be put to a vote on Wednesday unless May backs
down, with the threat of rebellion hanging over her if she
refuses to.

At stake is her leadership of the party. Support among
backbenchers for her leadership has diminished even further last
week amid lurid calls from MPs for the PM to “bring
her own noose
” to a meeting with backbench MPs on Wednesday.

If 48 MPs submit a letter of no-confidence to Sir Graham Brady,
the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, he would be
required to call a vote of no confidence, a mechanism by which
the party could ultimately force a replacement in leadership.
There is continuing speculation as to how many have currently
been submitted.

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