Macron cranks up pressure on British PM over Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to the press as she arrived yesterday in Brussels on the first day of an EU summit. Mrs May made a last-ditch plea to the bloc's 27 other leaders to hand her a Brexit delay until June 30, a request that she
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to the press as she arrived yesterday in Brussels on the first day of an EU summit. Mrs May made a last-ditch plea to the bloc's 27 other leaders to hand her a Brexit delay until June 30, a request that she said was "a matter of personal regret" and one she firmly pinned on her country's deeply divided Parliament.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He warns of disorderly exit if May fails to get MPs to approve deal

BRUSSELS/LONDON • French President Emmanuel Macron warned British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday that Britain would face a disorderly departure from the EU if she fails to get parliamentary approval for her deal on the third attempt next week.

Just eight days before Britain is due to leave the European Union, Mrs May made a last-ditch plea to the bloc's 27 other leaders in Brussels to hand her a Brexit delay until June 30, a request that she said was "a matter of personal regret" and one she firmly pinned on her country's deeply divided Parliament.

EU leaders are expected to grant her two extra months to organise a smooth exit - but only on the condition that the British leader can get her deal through Parliament, something even members of her own government increasingly doubt.

Growing investor concerns that Britain could leave the EU without a deal sent the sterling to a one-week low.

"We must be clear, to ourselves, our British friends and our people," Mr Macron said on arrival at the 24-hour summit. "Firstly, we've been negotiating the withdrawal agreement for two years. It cannot be renegotiated. Secondly, in the event of another 'no' vote in Britain, we will be heading towards a no-deal. Everyone knows it."

European leaders must not let the turmoil surrounding Brexit drag on, the French leader said.

Mrs May said she was still working on getting Parliament's support for her deal, which envisages close economic ties with the EU after Brexit.

"I am still working on ensuring that Parliament can agree on a deal so that we can leave in an orderly way," she told reporters, referring to talks ministers are having with pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party and lawmakers in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her government.

"A short extension would give Parliament the time to make a final choice that delivers on the result of the referendum."

 
 
 
 

EU diplomats said her request for a delay to June 30 was likely to be met by an EU preference for Britain to have completed formalities and begin a status-quo transition to departure before Europeans elect a new Parliament from May 23.

"With regard to the date of June 30, we have to take into consideration that we have European elections in May," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "We can discuss this wish next week if we have a positive vote in the British Parliament on the exit agreement."

Mrs May's chances hang in the balance, with positions hardening after a chaotic week when the Parliament's Speaker questioned whether she could even bring her deal to a third vote.

The DUP, which gives Mrs May's government a majority in Parliament, said it was no closer to backing her agreement, the party's Brexit spokesman said yesterday, while eurosceptics also say they could never approve something that they say would trap Britain in the EU's orbit indefinitely.

In a challenge to Mrs May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also in Brussels, speaking to EU officials about his alternative plan for Brexit, which he says could be negotiated during an extension and pass through Parliament.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar summed up the situation in London, with no little understatement, as "somewhat chaotic". "We need to cut the entire British establishment a little bit of slack on this and support their request... for a short extension," he told reporters. "No-deal will only ever be a British choice."

If Mrs May hoped a televised address late on Wednesday would help persuade wavering lawmakers to support her Brexit deal, it appears to have backfired, instead alienating the very people she needs to win over.

NO-DEAL LOOMS 

Firstly, we've been negotiating the withdrawal agreement for two years. It cannot be renegotiated. Secondly, in the event of another 'no' vote in Britain, we will be heading towards a no-deal. Everyone knows it.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON


GETTING PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL 

I am still working on ensuring that Parliament can agree on a deal so that we can leave in an orderly way.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY

Lawmakers lined up yesterday to attack the statement in which Mrs May blamed Parliament for the need to seek a delay to Brexit. They branded it dangerous, reckless, toxic and irresponsible.

"The Prime Minister's statement was disgraceful," said opposition Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy, who represents a Brexit-supporting area.

"Pitting Parliament against the people in the current environment is dangerous and reckless," she said on Twitter. "She's attacking the MPs whose votes she needs. It will have cost her support."

Mrs May told Britons that Parliament had done "everything possible to avoid making a choice".

"Of this I am absolutely sure: You the public have had enough. You are tired of the infighting. You are tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows," she said in the televised statement from her Downing Street office. "You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide."

Mrs May's statement succeeded in uniting both pro-Brexit and pro-EU lawmakers - against her.

"If you are trying to persuade numbers of MPs to back a proposition, you don't do that by insulting them," pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Mark Francois told Sky News.

REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'Macron cranks up pressure on British PM over Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe