British PM launches drive to win public approval for Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May warned in a statement to Parliament that rejection would send the country "back to square one" with just four months left before it officially leaves the European Union.
British Prime Minister Theresa May warned in a statement to Parliament that rejection would send the country "back to square one" with just four months left before it officially leaves the European Union.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday began selling her Brexit agreement to sceptical politicians and the British public with a warning that "there is not a better deal available".

She appealed to Members of Parliament to vote for the contract she finalised over the weekend with the European Union and avoid the turmoil of splitting from the bloc without a plan.

She also embarked on a national campaign to sell her deal directly to voters.

Mrs May has staked her authority on persuading the House of Commons - against the odds - to endorse her Brexit deal in a vote expected to be held next month. She refused to rule out quitting as prime minister if she fails.

In a statement to Parliament yesterday, she warned that rejection would send Britain "back to square one" with just four months to go until the country leaves the EU.

"It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that will entail," the Prime Minister said. "The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country whichever way we voted. This is that deal."

Mrs May's new Brexit Secretary, Mr Stephen Barclay, acknowledged that it will be tough to get the deal through a vote in Parliament.

 
 
 

"I don't pretend for a minute that it is not a challenging task, given where the numbers currently look," he told Sky News yesterday. "We need to be clear to parliamentary colleagues as to what the alternative will be: Which will be massive uncertainty from either no deal or no Brexit. That is not in the interests of their constituents, it is not in the interest of protecting jobs."

After agreeing to the divorce terms at a special summit in Brussels, European leaders warned British politicians that they will not get a better offer because there is no "Plan B".

Speaking at the end of the summit, Mrs May backed that view and announced that she will personally lead a national campaign lasting "a few weeks" to win support for her agreement among politicians and voters. Then, Parliament will hold a decisive vote on whether to accept or reject the accord before Christmas.

Mrs May's team has not yet decided the date for the vote but is aiming for the middle of next month, with reports suggesting it could be held around Dec 10 to 12.

Mrs May promised to campaign "with all my heart" to persuade Parliament and the public to back her deal.

Eurosceptics in Mrs May's Conservative Party are vowing to oppose the agreement because it forces Britain to keep close to the EU's trade rules.

Many pro-EU politicians in Britain also regard the deal as unacceptable because Britain will have no say over the rules it must observe.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'British PM launches drive to win public approval for Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe