May faces decisive day in British parliament

Tuesday - 29/01/2019 10:17
HO/PRU/AFP | Video grab from a UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) broadcast shows British PM Theresa May at the House of Commons, January 29, 2019.
HO/PRU/AFP | Video grab from a UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) broadcast shows British PM Theresa May at the House of Commons, January 29, 2019.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that a vote in parliament is a chance to draw a line under divisions that have prevented parliament approving a Brexit deal and is an opportunity to show the EU what lawmakers do want.

"Today we have the chance to show the European Union what it will take to get a deal through this House of Commons, what it will take to move beyond the confusion and division and uncertainty that now hangs over us," May told parliament.

"I also accept that this House does not want the deal I put before it, in the form that it currently exists. The vote was decisive and I listened. So the world knows what this House does not want. Today we need to send an emphatic message about what we do want."

With exactly two months to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, MPs on Tuesday were debating May's plan to attempt to renegotiate the deal she struck with Brussels even though EU leaders have repeatedly ruled this out.

The draft divorce deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on January 15 and deeply divided parliamentarians have been coming up with their own ideas to take a different path.

Bercow selects seven amendments

House of Commons speaker John Bercow said he had selected seven amendments, including one put forward by Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady which calls for the so-called Northern Irish backstop to be removed and replaced with "alternative arrangements".

He also selected an amendment proposed by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, which seeks to shift control of Brexit from May's government to parliament and if successful could have a profound effect, giving lawmakers who want to block, delay or renegotiate Brexit a possible legal route to do so

Pro-Brexit MPs have accused the speaker -- who publicly declared that he voted for Remain in the seismic 2016 referendum on Britain's EU membership -- of using his traditionally impartial positon to try to scupper Brexit.

'Compromise with us'

Brexit hardliners from May's Conservative Party are set against the divorce deal due to its so-called backstop proposal, which could see Britain indefinitely tied to EU trade rules in order to keep open the border with the Republic of Ireland.

Conservative MPs are being urged to support an amendment stating that parliament would be willing to support the divorce deal only if "alternative arrangements" were found to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, the Conservatives' hardcore Brexiteers -- who rebelled to vote against the draft deal on January 15 -- are yet to declare their hand.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, one of the top Brexiteers remaining in May's cabinet, told BBC radio that the prime minister was prepared to reopen the divorce agreement to secure a deal.

"We should send the prime minister back to Brussels with a strong mandate to be able to say: 'If you compromise with us on this one issue, on the the backstop, we would be able to get an agreement' -- an agreement that is almost there," he said.

'Groundhog Day'

However, the mood music from within the EU suggested otherwise.

Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said: "There's no negotiation between the EU and the UK. That negotiation is finished.

"It does feel like Groundhog Day."

She warned that Britain risked crashing out of the EU without a deal "by accident" because London cannot decide what it wants.

A source in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said Tuesday: "The withdrawal agreement and the backstop are not renegotiable. The EU has been clear on this point many times: this route is an impasse. We must move on."

And Ireland's Europe minister Helen McEntee called for "realism" from London.

"There can be no change to the backstop. It was negotiated over 18 months with the UK and by the UK.

"A bit of realism is needed at this stage," she said on Twitter.

No-deal risk

Tuesday's votes are the latest twist in the turmoil that the Brexit vote has unleashed in one of the world's top economies.

Increasing numbers of government ministers have warned they will not accept the prospect of Britain leaving without a deal on March 29, immediately severing all ties with its largest trading partner and threatening economic chaos.

One amendment would open the door for the House of Commons to bring in legislation preventing Britain leaving the EU without a deal by forcing May to delay Brexit for nine months if her deal is not approved before February 26.

It would also give MPs the ability to extend the deadline indefinitely.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)


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