Brexit deal heading for trouble in key vote

Secretary Barclay says there’s not enough support in House of Commons to allow the finalised plan to pass


LONDON • The UK Parliament is on course to reject Theresa May’s Brexit agreement in a crucial vote next month, a senior minister admitted, as the prime minister (PM) seeks to persuade sceptical politicians and voters it’s the only deal available.

Newly appointed Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (picture) said there did not seem to be enough support in the House of Commons to allow the plan finalised with the European Union (EU) over the weekend to pass.

“I don’t pretend for a minute that it’s not a challenging task given where the numbers currently look,” he told Sky News yesterday. “We need to be clear to parliamentary colleagues as to what the alternative will be: Which will be massive uncertainty from either no deal or no Brexit. That’s not in the interests of their constituents, it’s not in the interest of protecting jobs.”

May is embarking on a national campaign to sell the contract directly to the public and avoid the turmoil of splitting from the bloc without a plan.

She has refused to rule out quitting as PM if she fails.

In a statement to Parliament yesterday, May warned that rejection would send Britain “back to square one” with just four months to go until the country leaves the EU.

“It would open the door to more division and more uncertainty, with all the risks that will entail,” she said, according to extracts of her speech released in advance by her office.

“The British people want us to get on with a deal that honours the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country whichever way we voted. This is that deal.”

After agreeing to the divorce terms at a special summit in Brussels, European leaders warned British politicians they won’t get a better offer because there is no “Plan B”.

Speaking at the end of the summit, May backed that view and announced she’ll personally lead a national campaign lasting “a few weeks” to win support for her agreement among politicians and voters. Then, Parliament will hold a decisive vote on whether to accept or reject the accord before Christmas.

May’s team hasn’t yet decided the date for the vote, but they are aiming for mid-December, with reports suggesting it could be held around Dec 10-12.

May promised to campaign “with all my heart” to persuade Parliament and the public to back her deal. Asked if she would resign if Parliament refused to back her plan, May twice declined to give a direct answer on Sunday. She insisted her focus was on winning the vote, and that her own future is not the question that matters.

May knows she’s facing huge opposition from critics within her own Conservative Party. Even government ministers admit they have work to do to avoid defeat.

If she does lose, the UK will be on course to exit the EU in March with no agreement and no transition period to cushion the blow. Some politicians want to send her back to Brussels to renegotiate if her first attempt is voted down. But EU leaders had a coordinated message on Sunday: This is the only deal on offer.

“If there was anything better I can tell you, Theresa May would have gotten that,” Dutch PM Mark Rutte told reporters. “She has fought very hard, she was very stubborn and she always is, in a positive sense, very tenacious.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said anyone hoping for fresh negotiations would be disappointed within “seconds” if Parliament rejects the deal, while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz added: “This is a take-it-or-leave-it situation.”

Eurosceptics in May’s Conservative Party hate the withdrawal agreement and are vowing to oppose it because it forces the UK to keep close to the EU’s trade rules. Many pro-EU politicians in Britain also regard it as unacceptable because the UK will have no say over the rules it must observe.

EU leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed sadness about the divorce, mourning the loss of a member state as the club of 28 nations shrinks to 27. May was asked if she shared those sentiments. “No,” the PM replied. She added that she understood that some leaders were sad, and some people at home in Britain were, too.