Warnings of pain fail to sway opinion on May's Brexit deal

Britain's Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd has underlined the damaging impact of leaving the EU in March without a new trade deal in place.
Britain's Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd has underlined the damaging impact of leaving the EU in March without a new trade deal in place.

British lawmakers likely to reject deal with EU even amid official warning of recession

LONDON • British politicians yesterday resumed debating Prime Minister Theresa May's apparently doomed Brexit deal, with fresh warnings over what is at stake ringing in their ears.

After concerns were raised by Japan's Prime Minister and business group CBI, Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd underlined the damaging impact of leaving the EU in March without a new trade agreement in place, and hinted she could even quit over the issue.

"This is a strong and great country, we will find a way to succeed," Ms Rudd told BBC Radio. "But I do not think that no deal will be good for this country and I am committed to making sure that we find an alternative."

Ms Rudd declined to answer when asked three times if she would resign from the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit.

According to The Guardian newspaper, CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn was to make a speech yesterday saying that a no-deal exit risks shrinking Britain's GDP by up to 8 per cent, and urging politicians to put jobs and the economy first.

The interventions seem unlikely to be enough to help Mrs May's unpopular agreement pass Parliament when it is put to a vote in the House of Commons next Tuesday.

An analysis by the BBC on Thursday suggested Mrs May's deal is on course to suffer the biggest government defeat in the history of the Commons in the vote.

 
 

A no-deal Brexit remains the default option if Parliament does not back Mrs May's deal, even though a majority of lawmakers this week supported a motion designed to reduce the chances of Britain tumbling out of the bloc on March 29.

Such a scenario could trigger a recession, with the pound falling by as much as 25 per cent, official analysis suggests.

Yesterday, Mrs May's spokesman Alison Donnelly told reporters the legislation needed for leaving the EU will be passed in time for Brexit day on March 29, after a newspaper quoted a minister as saying the exit could be delayed.

Mrs May held meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in London on Thursday.

Speaking after that, Mr Abe publicly backed Mrs May's Brexit deal and offered his "deepest respect" for the work his British counterpart has done in securing an agreement with the EU. "We truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided and, in fact, that is the whole wish of the whole world," Mr Abe said at a press conference in Downing Street.

"There is a good deal on the table and for those who want to avoid no deal, backing the deal is the thing to do," Mrs May said at the press conference.

But Mrs May is not in full control of events. Parliament is flexing its muscle and Cabinet ministers are also starting to raise their head above the parapet.

Business Secretary Greg Clark has said a no-deal Brexit should be ruled out. "We need to act to avoid a no-deal because I don't think there is anything remotely like a majority in Parliament that will tolerate this," he told BBC Radio on Thursday.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline 'Warnings of pain fail to sway opinion on May's Brexit deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe