British prime minister faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels
British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a new showdown with pro-EU MPs on Wednesday over parliament’s role in the final Brexit deal, which could influence her entire negotiating strategy.
After months of debate, MPs will vote on the last contested amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill which set out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019.
May says she expects to get an agreement, but warned that any attempt to tie her hands could weaken her negotiating position with Brussels.
She averted a rebellion by pro-EU MPs in her Conservative party last week with a promise of a compromise on parliament’s powers, but within days they had rejected her proposal as inadequate.
The MPs instead worked with peers to introduce their own amendment to the unelected upper House of Lords, which agreed by a landslide on Monday, sending it back to the lower House of Commons.
The main opposition Labour party is backing the amendment but it has its own rebels who could vote with the government on Wednesday afternoon.
“The vote will be tight,” a government source told AFP.
May’s spokesman said Tuesday the government could not accept the proposal, which “would undermine our ability in the negotiations to get the best deal for the country”.
He added: “We hope that all MPs will be able to support the government’s position.”
– ‘Government collapse’ –
Phillip Lee, a Conservative MP who resigned as a junior minister last week to vote against the government, said Wednesday’s vote could go either way.
He said the government continued to try to persuade MPs, telling the BBC: “We were always going to get the normal dark arts of Westminster taking place.
“But my understanding is that the position taken by a number of colleagues is solid, which is why the government is still in negotiations.”
The vote could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament.
May commands only a slim majority in the 650-seat Commons, through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
A victory for the pro-Europeans would embolden them ahead of debates next month on Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU, which they are seeking to keep as close as possible.
It would likely anger eurosceptics, who accuse the rebels of seeking to thwart Brexit — and are also increasingly frustrated with the withdrawal process under May’s leadership.
Leading Conservative rebel Dominic Grieve denied he was trying to undermine the government or stop Brexit, but warned that if parliament rejected the final Brexit deal, there would be a crisis.
“That’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat,” he told Sky News television.
“The very reason I’ve prompted this amendment is to provide a mechanism to make sure that we don’t come to government collapse immediately.”
But eurosceptic Conservative MP Graham Stringer said Grieve and his supporters were only interested in “sabotaging the whole process”.
– More realism –
The vote comes on the day that European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt appeared before Britain’s Brexit committee, telling MPs that plans reportedly under consideration by May to stay in the EU single market for goods only would be “very difficult if not impossible”.
The Brexit talks are progressing slowly, but there are few hopes of a breakthrough at an EU summit later this month.
Both sides are still publicly aiming for an agreement in October, but this is looking more and more difficult.
The EU ‘s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday that “serious divergences” remain over how to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, and neighbouring EU member Ireland.
The British government has yet to decide on what it wants from the future economic relationship, but says it intends to pursue its own trade and customs policies.
Barnier also dealt a blow to London’s hopes of a close security relationship, saying it could not continue to access the EU’s policing databases as it does now or stay in the European Arrest Warrant scheme.
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