Brexit

May insists exit process will start next March

British business owner Charlie Mullins, who is the CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, posing for a photograph outside the high court in London on Thursday. Mr Mullins is one of the key people who supported the high court case, in which three judges ruled that
British business owner Charlie Mullins, who is the CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, posing for a photograph outside the high court in London on Thursday. Mr Mullins is one of the key people who supported the high court case, in which three judges ruled that only Parliament can push the Brexit button.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

British PM confident amid turmoil as MPs seek to force govt to make its strategy transparent

British Prime Minister Theresa May has assured European leaders that the Brexit clock will start ticking no later than March next year as promised, and that she is confident of winning an appeal against Thursday's high court decision.

Mrs May's reaffirmation in separate phone calls to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others comes amid turmoil within her own Conservative party and among lawmakers now seeking to force the government to make its Brexit strategy transparent.

In a sign of how divisive this issue has become, Tory MP Stephen Phillips resigned yesterday, citing "irreconcilable policy differences" with Mrs May's government over bypassing Parliament to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which kickstarts proceedings to leave the European Union.

On Thursday night, 10 Downing Street dampened talk that Mrs May would call a snap general election next year in order to gather enough support from MPs to push her Brexit plan through the House of Commons. The next election has to be called by May 7, 2020.

Yesterday, a spokesman said the government is now focused on its supreme court appeal and is confident of winning the case. The government has argued that it has the right to use a royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. But in a landmark ruling on Thursday, three high court judges said only Parliament can push the Brexit button.

On Thursday night, 10 Downing Street dampened talk that Mrs May would call a snap general election next year in order to gather enough support from MPs to push her Brexit plan through the House of Commons. The next election has to be called by May 7, 2020.

Pro-EU MPs are now determined to extract from the government the best deal on behalf of their constituents, believing the supreme court will most likely uphold the three judges' decision.

Parliamentarians have started mobilising in different directions. Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said his Liberal Democrats will seek, along with other parties, to "amend the legislation such that Parliament would say to government it should pursue a soft Brexit, not a hard Brexit".

The Lib Dems, as they are known, have eight MPs in the House of Commons but significantly more representatives in the upper chamber, the House of Lords. There has been fear that Mrs May intends to pursue a "hard Brexit", which could mean giving up access to the EU's single market and the free movement of labour entirely.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also hinted on Thursday that her Scottish National Party's 56 MPs would vote against the triggering of Article 50, in line with the wishes of Scottish voters, 62 per cent of whom voted at the June 23 referendum to remain in the EU.

Opinion is equally divided within the Tory Party. The Guardian reported yesterday that a cross-party group of Tory and Labour MPs met on Thursday to discuss how to use the high court's ruling to force Mrs May into divulging what she is seeking from the EU.

Brexiters, outraged by the court decision, have been quick to accuse the establishment of betraying British voters, fearful that Brexit will somehow be thwarted by Parliament. Mr Simon Boyd, regional chair of a Brexit business group in south-west England, called the ruling "a politically motivated attempt to re-run the referendum by stealth".

"It is a deceit," he told the Financial Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'May insists exit process will start next March'. Print Edition | Subscribe