Brexit could be lost if House rejects deal, says Jeremy Hunt

Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to secure changes to an EU exit deal before a vote on it tomorrow.
Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to secure changes to an EU exit deal before a vote on it tomorrow.

Minister's caution follows two eurosceptic factions' warning that May faces heavy defeat

LONDON • Brexit could be reversed if lawmakers reject the government's exit deal, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said yesterday after two major eurosceptic factions in Parliament warned that Prime Minister Theresa May was facing a heavy defeat.

Just 19 days before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, Mrs May is scrambling - so far unsuccessfully - to secure last-minute changes to an exit agreement before a vote tomorrow on whether to approve it.

If she fails, lawmakers are expected to force her to seek a delay to Brexit, which some fear could see the 2016 decision to leave the bloc reversed. Others argue that without a delay, Britain faces chaos if it leaves without a deal on March 29.

"We have an opportunity now to leave on March 29, or shortly thereafter, and it's important we grasp that opportunity because there is wind in the sails of people trying to stop Brexit," Mr Hunt told the BBC. "We are in very perilous waters."

Mr Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up Mrs May's minority government, and Mr Steve Baker, a leading figure in the large eurosceptic faction of her Conservative Party, warned that "the political situation is grim".

"An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons," they wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

'NO' TO SAME DEAL

An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons.

MR NIGEL DODDS AND MR STEVE BAKER, the first a deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party which props up Mrs Theresa May's minority government, and the second a leading figure in the large eurosceptic faction of her Conservative Party.

The Sunday Times said Mrs May was battling to save her job as aides were considering persuading her to offer to resign in a bid to get the deal approved. The newspaper also said Cabinet ministers have spoken about whether to insist she goes as early as this week.

Parliament rejected Mrs May's deal by a record margin in January, prompting the British leader to return to Brussels in search of changes to address the so-called Irish backstop - an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Many British lawmakers object to the policy on the grounds that it could leave Britain subject to EU rules indefinitely and cleave Northern Ireland away from the rest of the country.

But Mrs May's attempts to get the clause rewritten have so far failed to yield any result, with EU negotiators unwilling to meet her demands and Britain rejecting a compromise offer.

Mr Hunt said tomorrow's vote would definitely go ahead and that it was too soon to say negotiations with the EU had "run into the sands". He said realism and a lot of work was needed from both Britain and the EU to get a deal.

Mrs May has promised that if lawmakers reject her deal tomorrow, she would let them vote the next day on whether to leave without a deal on March 29. If they reject that, then on Thursday they are due to vote on a "limited" delay.

  • Key dates over the next three weeks

  • MONDAY, MARCH 11

    Mrs May could go to Brussels to finalise any changes she has secured to the Brexit deal relating to the so-called Irish backstop. The deadline is Monday night, when she must put down a motion in the House of Commons to allow MPs to vote on the deal on Tuesday.

    TUESDAY, MARCH 12

    The House of Commons votes again on Mrs May's deal, just over two months after rejecting it on Jan 15 by 432 votes to 202. Mrs May will open the debate, from around 1245 GMT (8.45pm Singapore time), and votes are expected from 1900 GMT.

    WEDNESDAY, MARCH 13

    If the deal is rejected, MPs will vote on whether Britain should leave the European Union on March 29 without any deal at all.

    THURSDAY, MARCH 14

    If MPs reject a "no deal" exit, they will vote on whether to seek from the EU a "short, limited" delay to Brexit.

    Mrs May has mentioned the possibility of a three-month extension, ending before the new European Parliament meets for the first time in early July.

    THURSDAY AND FRIDAY, MARCH 21-22

    EU leaders, including Mrs May, gather for their final summit in Brussels before Britain's scheduled departure.

    FRIDAY, MARCH 29

    Britain leaves the EU, unless the process is formally delayed - or revoked, an option nobody is discussing.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Britain's opposition Labour Party should support staying in the EU if there is a second referendum, said its Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer yesterday. "If there's a public vote that would operate as a lock, if you like, on any deal that Theresa May gets through - if that is the position, then in my view, the default ought to be 'remain'," he told Sky News. But he said the party would not be seeking to secure support in Parliament tomorrow for a second referendum.

A poll commissioned by a pro-Leave group and published in the Telegraph suggested that more British voters want Britain to leave without a deal if the EU does not make any more concessions. The number has risen to 44 per cent from 38 per cent in a similar poll in January.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

SEE Brexit: How to have one's cake and eat it too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2019, with the headline 'Brexit could be lost if House rejects deal, says Jeremy Hunt'. Print Edition | Subscribe