Pressure mounts on May with Brexit in disarray

Protesters at the Carrickcarnan border between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in Ireland on Saturday. The British Parliament is due to vote today on a range of alternative Brexit options, including a no-deal exit, preventing a no-deal exit, a
Protesters at the Carrickcarnan border between Newry in Northern Ireland and Dundalk in Ireland on Saturday. The British Parliament is due to vote today on a range of alternative Brexit options, including a no-deal exit, preventing a no-deal exit, a Customs union, or a second referendum.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

British PM could make a last-ditch attempt after House votes on different options today

LONDON • Britain's exit from the European Union was in disarray after the implosion of Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy left her under pressure from rival factions to leave without a deal, go for an election or forge a much softer divorce.

After one of the most tumultuous weeks in British politics since the 2016 referendum, it was still uncertain how, when or even if Britain would ever leave the bloc it first joined 46 years ago.

A third defeat of Mrs May's divorce deal, after her pledge to quit if it was passed, left one of the weakest leaders in a generation grappling with a perilous crisis over Brexit, Britain's most significant move since World War II.

Parliament will vote on different Brexit options today, and Mrs May could then try a last roll of the dice by bringing her deal back to a vote in the House as soon as tomorrow.

Justice Secretary David Gauke, who voted in the 2016 referendum to stay in the EU, said it would be irresponsible for the government to take Britain out of the bloc without a deal, and that ministers will have to consider very carefully the outcome of discussions in Parliament to find an alternative deal on Brexit.

"It is not the responsible thing for the government to do to leave without a deal," he told BBC TV, adding that he would have to quit the Cabinet if that became government policy. "I don't think that the British people would thank us if we left without a deal", which would lead to "serious consequences".

He also said that Mrs May is reflecting on the options available, but cautioned that no decisions have been made yet.

 
 
 

Many in Mrs May's Conservative Party, though, have lost patience. The Sun newspaper reported that 170 of her 314 Conservative lawmakers had sent her a letter demanding that Brexit take place in the next few months - deal or no deal.

Britain was due to leave the EU last Friday, but the political deadlock in London forced Mrs May to ask the bloc for a delay.

Currently, Brexit is due to take place on April 12 unless Mrs May comes up with another option.

The labyrinthine Brexit crisis has left Britain divided: Supporters of both Brexit and EU membership marched through London last week. Many on both sides feel betrayed by a political elite that has failed to show leadership.

Parliament is due to vote today on a range of alternative Brexit options selected by Speaker John Bercow from nine proposals put forward by lawmakers, including a no-deal exit, preventing a no-deal exit, a Customs union or a second referendum.

With no majority yet in the House of Commons for any of the Brexit options, there was speculation that an election could be called, though such a vote would be unpredictable and it is unclear who would lead the Conservatives into it.

The Sunday Times said Mrs May's media chief Robbie Gibb and her political aide Stephen Parkinson were pushing for an election against the will of her chief enforcer in Parliament, Mr Julian Smith.

Ms Emily Thornberry, a foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said it could try to call a vote of no confidence in Mrs May's government. "We don't know if she is going to remain prime minister, (and) if we are going to get somebody else, who that other person is going to be - it is a mess," she said.

Opponents of Brexit fear it will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional leadership of United States President Donald Trump and the growing assertiveness of Russia and China.

Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow Britain to thrive if it is cut free from what they cast as a doomed attempt in European unity.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Pressure mounts on May with Brexit in disarray'. Print Edition | Subscribe