May set to spur Brexit talks amid setback at home

BRUSSELS • British Prime Minister Theresa May was set to urge European Union leaders yesterday to approve an agreement to move Brexit talks on to a second phase, hours after an embarrassing parliamentary defeat at home that weakened her hand.

At the beginning of a dinner in Brussels, Mrs May was due to repeat her case for unlocking talks to discuss future trade relations, something she sees as crucial to offering certainty for businesses.

The 27 other EU leaders are all but certain to approve the deal to move to the second phase today, launching a new stage of talks that could still be hampered by divisions at home and differences with the EU.

Acknowledging the tough negotiations ahead, European Council President Donald Tusk warned them that only their unity, displayed so far in the Brexit talks, would deliver a good deal.

"I have no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of Brexit talks," Mr Tusk told reporters in Brussels.

Mrs May said yesterday she was disappointed after she lost Wednesday's key parliamentary vote on Brexit as a result of which Parliament, and not the government, will have the last say on the shape of the final exit deal. But she insisted the vote had not derailed negotiations to leave the EU.

After days of often fraught diplomacy, Mrs May rescued the initial deal last Friday, easing the concerns of her Northern Irish allies over the wording to protect a free border with EU member Ireland without separating the province from Britain.

TEST OF UNITY

I have no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of Brexit talks.

MR DONALD TUSK, President of the European Council.

But she faces more hurdles ahead. Mrs May and her Cabinet are due next Tuesday to hold a discussion of senior ministers' competing views on Britain's future outside the EU - to remain close to the bloc or forge a new path.

On Wednesday, eleven Conservative MPs voted against the government to force through an amendment that will give Parliament a binding vote on whether or not to accept any eventual Brexit deal with the EU.

The concern now is that this group could cause more trouble, including next week when it will be demanding another change in Brexit legislation to remove any mention of the date of March 29, 2019 as the day Britain leaves the EU.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers are concerned by a fall-back promise in the initial deal to have "full regulatory alignment" with the EU if there is no overall agreement on future ties, and fear that their desire for an independent Britain is being undermined.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'May set to spur Brexit talks amid setback at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe