Theresa May. File photo/ AFP
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s final bid to salvage her EU divorce deal appeared doomed as pro-Brexit Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party rejected her attempts at compromise.
May is likely to face an intense session at Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament on Wednesday, a day before Britain votes in EU elections it had not expected to take part in three years after the Brexit referendum.
The embattled leader on Tuesday promised to give lawmakers a vote on holding a second Brexit referendum and dangled a package of sweeteners she hoped could resolve the Brexit crisis.
MPs have already rejected her Brexit deal three times.
May has already said she will leave office shortly after the measures she outlined are put up for a vote early next month — no matter the outcome.
In her televised address on Tuesday, she promised to give lawmakers a chance to set a confirmatory referendum on whatever version of Brexit they end up approving in the weeks or months to come.
“I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the house on this important issue,” May said.
The measure is a key demand of the main opposition Labour Party but is bitterly opposed by Brexit-supporting Conservatives whose votes May also needs if she is to get her deal passed.
A question of democracy
May’s offer comes as Britain votes in EU elections on Thursday with the two main parties trailing behind the Brexit Party and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, according to a YouGov poll.
“This is now about far more than leaving the European Union. This is about a bigger, more fundamental question of democracy,” Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage told crowds of cheering supporters at a final rally Tuesday.
“If we win big on Thursday, we will kill off any prospect of parliament forcing a second referendum upon us because they know they would lose!”
On Wednesday, Farage will debate head-to-head with Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable.
“A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for an international, outward-looking Britain. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit,” Cable told a party gathering.
The pro-EU party’s outright rejection of Brexit appears to be resonating with Remain voters who would normally back Labour or the Conservatives.
May said her proposals were this parliament’s “last chance” to end political deadlock that has already delayed Brexit past its original March deadline and caused huge public anger.
She called them “a new Brexit deal” that Britain must now rally behind.
The government is aiming for the law to be approved by the time parliament’s summer recess begins on July 20, which would allow Britain to leave the EU at the end of that month — as long as MPs reject a second referendum.
Otherwise the process could be delayed until Oct.31 — the deadline set by the EU — or even later if EU leaders grant Britain another postponement.
“The majority of MPs say they want to deliver the result of the referendum. So I think we need to help them find a way. And I believe there is now one last chance to do that,” May said.
May set out 10 incentives to be included in a new Brexit bill that is expected to come up for a vote in the week starting June 3, including a temporary customs union and preserving the rights of European workers.
These are major Labour demands but she failed to win them over.
“We can’t support this bill because basically it’s a rehash of what was discussed before,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
And May’s proposals threaten to only reinforce the resistance within Brexit-backing ranks of her own Conservative Party.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace May in a leadership contest, said on Twitter he would not support the new incarnation of the deal, having voted for it the last time it was put to parliament.
“The Bill is directly against our manifesto — and I will not vote for it. We can and must do better — and deliver what the people voted for,” he said, rejecting the idea of any customs union or second referendum.
The last vote on the Brexit deal in March was the closest. She lost that by 58 votes in the 650-seat House of Commons.
But most analysts and British newspapers still give May little-to-no chance of winning on this occasion.
“May’s final effort to win backing falls flat as MPs reject ‘new’ Brexit deal,” said left-leaning daily The Guardian.
“Tories reject May’s final attempt at Brexit deal,” said The Times, while the eurosceptic Daily Telegraph was more blunt: “Desperate, deluded, doomed.”
The vote also comes with the race to succeed her as party leader in full swing.
May warned eurosceptics within her party ranks that a rejection of her final throw of the dice threatened to doom Brexit for good.
This compromise solution “is practical,” May said. “It is responsible. It is deliverable. And right now, it is slipping away from us.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday it was unlikely the European Union would reach any decision on Brexit at this week’s summit in Brussels.
"It is with great regret that I have had to conclude that as things stand, there is still not sufficient support in the House to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote," May told the House of Commons.
At risk of losing control of the process of leaving the European Union, the leader announced she would resign if parliament finally backed her withdrawal agreement.
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