Change Brexit plan, critics tell Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May was under growing pressure on Sunday to change her plan for Britain to leave the European Union to avoid defeat in a parliamentary vote.
With both Britain and the EU saying an agreement was close, eurosceptic legislators and a leading member of a Northern Irish party that props up her Conservative government made threats to vote against the deal terms she is working on with Brussels.
The vote in parliament, most likely to come later in 2018, is gearing up to be the biggest showdown in the lengthy negotiations to leave the EU, Britain’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.
May, who was attending a ceremony to mark 100 years since the end of World War 1, found some support from ministers in her cabinet, but it would be hard for her to ignore the growing calls to change tack after a minister resigned and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) threatened to rebel.
“If the government makes the historic mistake of prioritising placating the EU over establishing an independent and whole UK, then regrettably we must vote against the deal,” Steve Baker, a leading eurosceptic and former minister, wrote alongside the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
The main battleground is over a so-called backstop to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, something that would only come into force if a deal on future ties cannot guarantee the type of frictionless trade needed to keep it open.
Fears that proposals would mean keeping Britain inside the EU’s customs union indefinitely or that Northern Ireland would have to accept different rules and regulations to the rest of the UK have focused opposition to May’s deal.
Eurosceptics have long criticised May’s proposals, but the resignation on Friday of transport minister Jo Johnson, the remain-voting younger brother of Brexit campaign leader Boris Johnson, highlighted the depth of anger over her plans.
There are also suggestions that others in government may follow.