May Faces Tory Brexit Backlash Over Her ‘No Deal’ Threat

  • May says she’ll quit EU talks rather than accept ‘a bad deal’
  • Alistair Burt: May must give assurances over Parliament’s role

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is headed for a showdown with her own governing party in Parliament over the terms of Brexit negotiations, facing calls to retreat at home before opening talks with the European Union.

Critics within May’s Conservative Party want her to give Parliament a say on what happens if Brexit negotiations break down without an agreement, according to Alistair Burt, a former minister. If she refuses, he and others may have no option but to oppose the premier in a key vote on her Brexit trigger law next week, he said.

The premier will on Monday ask the lower house of Parliament to delete conditions imposed by the unelected upper House of Lords to her draft law, so she can press ahead and trigger the start of Brexit by March 31. The Lords amended the bill to protect residency rights of EU nationals living in the U.K. and guarantee legislators a binding vote on the outcome of talks with the EU, even if there is no deal.

“Parliament must be involved and I want the government to give an assurance about Parliament’s role if there is no deal,” Burt said in a phone interview on Friday. “If they can’t, it may not be possible to get in the way of the Lords’ amendment.”

Read up on Brexit basics

Before opening talks with the EU over the terms of the departure, May needs Parliament to pass a law allowing her to fire the starting gun on Brexit. She wants the law to be kept as simple as possible so she has maximum flexibility in the negotiations.

Burt is among several prominent Conservatives in the House of Commons who could vote against her because they support the changes made by the Lords. With a narrow majority of only 17 in the Commons, her government is vulnerable to defeat if as few as nine Tories rebel.

“The government is under serious pressure from its own benches to make a concession,” said James McGrory, co-Executive Director of the Open Britain campaign against a so-called hard Brexit. “That pressure could intensify over the weekend.”

The premier is already battling a revolt from Tories over her plan to increase taxes on the self-employed. That violation of a campaign pledge triggered a backlash that could embolden more Tory opposition on Brexit. Anna Soubry, another former minister, said the tax criticism showed Britain was “barmy,” arguing that the Conservatives’ real betrayal of the public was to break an election promise to keep the U.K. in the EU single market.

What are the EU’s Brexit red lines?

If May gets her way and the Commons votes to delete the amendments on Monday, the bill will be sent back to the Lords to reconsider. The upper house could then choose to reinstate the amendments and send the bill back to the Commons again. This is the process known as “ping pong.”

The government has set aside time on three days next week for the “ping-pong” stage, although May’s team is confident she’ll get her law past Parliament without any amendments in time for her to meet her March 31 deadline.

The premier says the amendments are unnecessary and would weaken her position in Brexit talks. She says the 137-word bill gives her the necessary legal authority to notify the EU that Britain is leaving.

“Now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people,” May told Parliament before the draft law was debated in February. “It is time to get on with leaving the European Union and building an independent, self-governing, global Britain.”

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