May vows to see Brexit through, despite wave of resignations and party acrimony

May vows to see Brexit through, despite wave of resignations and party acrimony
Brexit secretary, other U.K. ministers quit leaving Theresa Mays draft in jeopardy
Britains Prime Minister Theresa May takes questions during a press conference inside 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. Two British Cabinet ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, resigned Thursday in opposition to the divorce deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May with the EU — a major blow to her authority and her ability to get the deal through Parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to fight for her draft divorce deal with the European Union on Thursday after the resignation of her Brexit secretary and other ministers put her strategy and her job in peril.

One eurosceptic lawmaker in May’s Conservative Party said more colleagues were either putting in letters to trigger a no confidence vote in her leadership or were increasingly minded to do so. A challenge is triggered if 48 Conservatives write such letters. May could be toppled if 158 of her 315 lawmakers vote against her.

Just over 12 hours after May announced that her cabinet had agreed to the terms of the deal, Brexit minister Dominic Raab and work and pensions minister Esther McVey resigned.

She acknowledged that hammering out an agreement with her cabinet was not “a comfortable process” but said those lawmakers who believed she could get a deal that did not include a backstop arrangement to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland were wrong.

Eurosceptics in Mays Conservative Party said they had submitted letters calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

May called a news conference at her Downing Street residence to underline her determination to stay the course.

“Theresa May has no authority left and is clearly incapable of delivering a Brexit deal that commands even the support of her cabinet, let alone parliament and the people of our country,” said Jon Trickett, a member of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s senior team.

Soft Brexit agreement not a done deal, warn EU leaders

Asked if she would contest any challenge to her position, she replied: Am I going to see this through? Yes.

Their departure, and the resignations of two junior ministers, shakes May’s divided government and her Brexit strategy, raising the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Some lawmakers in London openly questioned whether May’s government will survive.

However, hostility from government and opposition lawmakers raised the risk that the deal would be rejected in parliament, and that Britain could leave the EU on March 29 without a safety net.

At the heart of Raab’s criticism of May’s deal was the belief that the pursuit of a customs union with the EU would be the “starting point” for talks on the future relationship with the bloc, “severely prejudicing” what Britain could achieve.

That prospect pushed the pound down as much as 2 per cent to $1.2731, although it recovered slightly after Mays statement.

The deal requires the consent of the European Parliament as well as the British one. The parliament’s chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, welcomed the draft deal as “the best agreement we could obtain.” Verhofstadt predicted the EU Parliament could approve the deal at the start of next year, well in time of the March 29, 2019 exit.

The main stock index in Ireland, which is highly dependent on trade with Britain, plunged 3.8 per cent.

But May’s chances of getting her deal through Parliament before the U.K. leaves the bloc on March 29 appeared to be shrinking. Her Conservative government doesn’t have enough lawmakers of its own to get a majority, and relies on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which says it will not back the deal.

The German car maker BMW, which produces its Mini model in Britain, said that, with the political situation so uncertain, it would continue to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

Meanwhile in Brussels, Tusk heaped praise on the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who had “achieved the two most important objectives” for the bloc — limiting the damage caused by Britain’s impending departure and maintaining the interests of the other 27 countries that will remain in the EU after Brexit.

Two junior ministers, two ministerial aides and the Conservatives vice chairman joined Raab and McVey in quitting.

Before Parliament votes on the deal — the culmination of a year and a half of negotiations between the two sides — EU leaders have to give their backing. On Thursday, EU chief Donald Tusk called for a summit of leaders to take place on Nov. 25 so they can rubber-stamp the draft deal reached by officials earlier this week.

May said she understood their unhappiness, but added: I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people …

The DUP leader in Parliament, Nigel Dodds, said the “choice is now clear: we stand up for the United Kingdom, the whole of the United Kingdom, the integrity of the United Kingdom, or we vote for a vassal state with the breakup of the United Kingdom, that is the choice.”

By seeking to preserve the closest possible ties with the EU, May has upset her partys many advocates of a clean break, and Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

The departures — several junior ministers have also quit — are a further sign that many supporters of Brexit won’t back May in a vote in Parliament on the deal. That prompted a big fall in the value of the pound, which was trading 1.3 per cent lower at $1.2829.

Meanwhile, proponents of closer relations with the EU in her own party and the Labour opposition say the deal squanders the advantages of membership for little gain.

Both sides say it effectively cedes power to the EU without securing the promised benefits of greater autonomy.

She said: Im not his biggest fan. You have to be very straight with him. He finds it difficult dealing with women. Hes very dismissive. She also revealed that Raab had the same sandwich from Pret a Manger every day, which he has denied.

It is … mathematically impossible to get this deal through the House of Commons. The stark reality is that it was dead on arrival, said Conservative Brexit-supporting lawmaker Mark Francois.

The former corporate lawyer had long been a proponent for exiting the EU and his presence helming the negotiations in Brussels was seen as a reassurance to anxious Tory MPs, which in turn makes his sudden loss all the more damaging for the PM.

The ultimate outcome remains uncertain. Scenarios include Mays deal ultimately winning approval; May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no agreement; or even another referendum.

He later worked for one of the principal Palestinian negotiators of the Oslo peace accords before joining the Foreign Office, where he covered a range of briefs including the European Union and bringing war criminals to trial in The Hague.

Analysts from U.S. bank Citi said Britain was now likely either to stay in the EU or leave without a deal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of a Conservative eurosceptic group in parliament, said the draft was worse than anticipated, and he had formally requested a vote of no confidence in May.

He was also diligent in trying to keep Tory leavers onside, staying loyal to May, until he concluded that he cannot in good conscience back a plan which, he said, threatened the union and tied the UK too closely to EU rules.

At least 14 Conservative lawmakers openly said they had submitted such letters, although others could have done so secretly. Forty-eight are needed to trigger a challenge.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Frances finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, says the final deal must not weaken the common EU market. Photograph: Jacques Witt/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock The Dutch foreign affairs minister, Stef Blok, said the Netherlands would study the draft text very carefully, paying extra attention to agreements on a level playing field and fishing … The customs union as backstop plan demands close examination.

But May told parliament: The choice is clear. We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all, or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated.

But a May ally, former interior minister Amber Rudd, told Sky News: The problem isnt the prime minister. The problem is the challenges shes got to deliver in trying to pull together this Brexit. Shes the best person to do it.

But diplomats say several countries – including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Italy – are now pressing for the EUs negotiators to demand even tougher guarantees from the UK, including dynamic alignment on all issues covered by the level playing field.

In parliament, lawmakers from all sides spent three hours mostly attacking the draft, agreed with the EU on Tuesday after more than a year of difficult negotiations.

Read more Some countries with sizeable fishing industries are expected to resist any customs union agreement which does not grant reciprocal rights to EU vessels in return for tariff and quota-free UK imports into Europe. The draft withdrawal agreement leaves this decision until later.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement, Raab said in his resignation letter.

France, Spain and Denmark voiced their concerns at a meeting with the European commission on Wednesday, saying the UK was being given a customs union without sufficient guarantees against future undercutting of EU firms and EU standards. The Netherlands has raised similar worries.

Others said the so-called Irish backstop, to be used if no better way can be found to avoid future checks on the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, would tear Britain apart, leaving Northern Ireland all but inside the EUs single market.

EU ministers meeting on Monday are likely to demand that the price the UK pays for a customs union, included in the withdrawal agreement as the only mutually acceptable mechanism for avoiding a hard border across the island of Ireland or down the Irish sea, must be higher.

It was this arrangement, which sees Britain and the EU establishing a single customs territory, but Northern Ireland aligned more closely with the EU, that spurred most criticism.

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The DUP has threatened to pull its support from the minority government if the backstop means the province is treated differently from mainland Britain.

EU leaders are ready to meet on Nov. 25 to sign off on the divorce deal, or Withdrawal Agreement, but French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe summed up the uncertainty when he said events in London raised concerns about whether it would be ratified.

A group of EU states including France also raised objections to what has been agreed so far on fishing between the EU and U.K. after Brexit, diplomatic sources said.

Raab, 44, was named Brexit secretary in July after the resignation of his predecessor David Davis, who also quit in protest at Mays strategy.

At the heart of Raabs criticism was the belief that the pursuit of a temporary customs union with the EU would be the starting point for talks on the future relationship with the bloc, severely prejudicing what Britain could achieve.

He said he could not support an indefinite backstop arrangement, and that Mays plan threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom.

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