Britain's May says Brexit deal defeat could topple government

Britain's May says Brexit deal defeat could topple government

Theresa May's message came with her government fearing a heavy defeat on Tuesday of the draft withdrawal agreement she signed with Brussels last month.

Theresa May
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is putting her Brexit deal to a vote in parliament on Dec 11. (AFP/Mark DUFFY)

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May warned on Sunday (Dec 9) if parliament rejects her Brexit deal, it could leave Britain in the European Union and bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

The embattled leader's message came with her government fearing a heavy defeat on Tuesday of the draft withdrawal agreement she signed with Brussels last month.

Media reports said May is under pressure from her cabinet to delay the vote and fly to Brussels to secure more concessions ahead of a planned summit with 27 fellow EU leaders on Thursday and Friday.

But Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the BBC: "The vote is going ahead."

May said Britain "would truly be in uncharted waters" if the text agreed after nearly two years of tortuous negotiations is voted down less than four months before the Mar 29 Brexit date.

"It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit," she told the Mail on Sunday.

"We have a leader of the opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a general election ... I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take."

'MINORITY GOVERNMENT'

May is facing her biggest crisis since coming to power a month after the nation voted by a 52-48 margin in June 2016 to leave the world's largest single market after 46 years.

She is under attack from more strident Brexit backers in her party as well as europhiles who want either a second referendum or a pact that maintains stronger EU-UK ties than the one offered by May.

Her comments on Sunday are aimed at tamping down the hardline Conservative Party revolt led by the likes of her former foreign minister Boris Johnson.

May's team insists that her vision offers the cleanest break between the UK and EU that Brexit supporters can hope for at this late stage.

But Johnson used a column in the Sun on Sunday to argue that "the best way to get a great deal is to prepare for no deal" by rejecting May's draft.

Corbyn's party is hoping that failure in parliament on Tuesday will trigger a broader revolt that leads to early elections and returns Labour to power for the first time since 2010.

"I think time is really running out for her and if you can tell me if she will still be prime minister on Tuesday evening then perhaps I can tell you what we do next," Labour shadow minister John Trickett told Sky News.

He added that Labour was "ready to form a minority government should that be necessary - and it could happen on Wednesday morning".

Newspapers have identified more than six current and former ministers in May's cabinet who are ready to run for her job should she falter over the coming days.

The febrile political atmosphere was reinforced by rival pro- and anti-Brexit rallies that drew thousands in the heart of London.

'IMPORTANT WEEK'

Brexit's outright reversal is still a longshot that would probably require a second Brexit referendum that May has repeatedly ruled out.

EU supporters will be pinning their hopes on a European Court of Justice ruling on Monday on Britain's right to unilaterally halt Brexit in its tracks.

May faces a tough time convincing EU leaders to offer better divorce terms that could appease the mutinous Northern Irish party that propped up her government for more than a year.

EU President Donald Tusk signalled no concession after speaking to May by phone on Sunday.

"It will be an important week for the fate of #Brexit," Tusk said on Twitter.

Yet Brussels also wants to see May succeed and avert the economic nightmare that could unfold should Britain break away without any arrangements underpinning future trade.

European officials said they might be able to find a way to offer a token concession in Brussels that May could take back to London.

But they added that such tinkering cannot alter the basis of the withdrawal agreement itself.

The two sides might "work on the (accompanying) protocol or clarify a point that is deemed important so that she can take it back to parliament," an informed European source told AFP on condition on anonymity.

May would then be expected to submit the touched-up version for a second vote at an unspecified date.

Source: AFP/de

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