Prime Minister Theresa May appeared boxed in between a European Union in Brussels refusing to reopen negotiations and recalcitrant MPs in London rejecting the Brexit agreement that has little hope of being passed in the House of Commons.
The EU on Thursday night rejected appeals by May to offer legally enforceable assurances and clarifications that the so-called ‘backstop’ for Northern Ireland would not extend indefinitely. She insisted on Friday that such assurances were still possible.
Amid growing ennui in European capitals and London over the prolonged Brexit conundrum, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The last 24 hours have confirmed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water. The prime minister has utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal”.
“Rather than ploughing ahead and dangerously running down the clock, the prime minister needs to put her deal to a vote next week so Parliament can take back control”.
The withdrawal agreement was to be put to vote in parliament on Tuesday this week, but May deferred it to January after the Christmas break to gain time to try and get assurances from the EU over the ‘backstop’, its most controversial provision rejected by most MPs.
Seeking to hold out hope, May said: “If the backstop was ever triggered it would apply only temporarily and the EU would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop”.
“The EU stands ready to embark on preparations so that negotiations on the future partnership can conclude as soon as possible. As formal conclusions these commitments have legal statements and therefore should be welcomed.”
However, the Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up the minority May government, added: “The Prime Minister has promised legally binding changes (on the ‘backstop’). The reaction by the EU is unsurprising. They are doing what they always do”.
“The key question is whether the Prime Minister will stand up to them or whether she will roll over as has happened previously. This is a difficulty of the Prime Minister’s own making. A deal was signed off which the Prime Minister should have known would not gain the support of Parliament”.
The ‘backstop’ is supposed to be an ‘insurance policy’ to ensure that there is no hard border between Ireland (EU member-state) and Northern Ireland (part of UK) in the event that a trade agreement is not in place between EU and the UK after Brexit.
Built into the ‘backstop’ arrangement are continued links with the European customs union and other trade conventions, a situation that riles pro-Brexit Conservative MPs and others, since it envisages EU laws continuing to prevail over UK laws – which overturns the Brexit objective of “taking back power” from Brussels.
As pro- and anti-May statements continued in Westminster, former prime minister Tony Blair repeated his call in a speech on Friday for another referendum, popularly called the People’s Vote.
“First – to state the obvious – the country is in crisis. And we are suffering. The Government is preoccupied by Brexit to the exclusion of all else when so much else requires urgent attention. Investors are losing confidence. Our reputation as the repository of that great British virtue, common sense, is evaporating. The nation is bitterly divided”.
“We are now entering a new phase of Brexit. Government has lost the initiative. Parliament has taken it. We know the options for Brexit. Parliament will have to decide on one of them. If Parliament can’t then it should decide to go back to the people”.
First Published: Dec 14, 2018 22:12 IST
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