Failure to deliver Brexit would be catastrophic for democracy: Theresa May

British PM's warning comes ahead of crucial Parliament vote on deal with EU which looks set to suffer big defeat

British Prime Minister Theresa May said lawmakers must not let down the people who backed Brexit in a June 2016 referendum. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers yesterday that failing to deliver Brexit would be catastrophic for democracy, in a plea for support two days before Parliament is expected to reject her deal with Brussels.

With the clock ticking down to its March 29 exit from the European Union and Parliament deadlocked, Britain faces a hugely uncertain path that could lead to a disorderly exit or even remaining in the bloc.

Mrs May, who postponed a vote in Parliament on her deal last month after admitting she was set to lose it, said lawmakers must not let down the people who backed Brexit in a June 2016 referendum.

"Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy," she wrote in the Sunday Express. "So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country."

Mrs May has so far refused to retreat from her unpopular deal, which envisages close trading ties with the EU, but without any say on policy as Britain has now.

The vexed Brexit issue represents Britain's biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.

Mrs May's deal has come under fire from all sides - with opponents of the EU seeking a cleaner break and many pro-Europeans pressing for a second referendum. Mrs May is expected to suffer a big defeat when Parliament votes tomorrow.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay told BBC TV that persuading lawmakers to support the deal would be "challenging" but that even if it was rejected, he suspected that Parliament would ultimately support something "along the lines of this deal".

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic and his party would do everything it could to prevent that outcome. However, his priority is to force a national election and he said he would propose a vote of confidence in the government "soon" if Mrs May loses the vote.

After a week in which Parliament forced the government to promise to come back with a "Plan B" within days if Mrs May's deal is rejected, Mr Barclay said the risk of Parliament acting in a way that frustrates Brexit had increased.

The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from Mrs May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit.

Mr Vince Cable, the leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said Parliament would act to prevent a no-deal Brexit, and could ultimately seek to prevent Brexit altogether. He said this could be done by revoking Article 50, the mechanism which triggered the exit process, or by holding a second referendum.

Asked about the prospect of another referendum, Mr Corbyn told BBC TV: "My own view is that I would rather get a negotiated deal now, if we can, to stop the danger of a no-deal exit from the EU on March 29 which would be catastrophic for industry, catastrophic for trade."

He added that if he forced a national election and his party won, Brexit may have to be delayed while a new deal is negotiated.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2019, with the headline Failure to deliver Brexit would be catastrophic for democracy: Theresa May. Subscribe