The British prime minister is still working to win support for her divorce agreement but she won’t bother putting it to another vote in Parliament as planned on Tuesday unless there is a strong chance it will be approved, ministers said.
After a weekend of threats and pleading, May will continue negotiations with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and rebel Tory MPs on Monday, according to a person familiar with her plans. She needs both groups to switch sides if her agreement is to be passed by the House of Commons at the third attempt.
‘Work in Progress’
Persuading enough MPs to back the deal, which has been heavily defeated twice in the House of Commons, is “a work in progress,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said.
“We will only bring the deal back if we’re confident enough of our colleagues and the DUP are prepared to support it and get it through Parliament,” Hammond told BBC TV. “It’s absolutely vital that we get it though next week, it’s the final chance to do this deal without having a long extension.”
May warned on Sunday that if the agreement isn’t passed before the EU summit, negotiations with the bloc might have to start over. British voters being asked to take part in May’s European Parliament elections as a result would be a “potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure,” she said.
“If Parliament can find a way to back the Brexit deal before European Council, the U.K. will leave the EU this spring, without having to take part in the European elections, and we can get on with building our future relationship,” the premier wrote in an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “If it cannot, we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
May’s team sees persuading the DUP’s 10 MPs to back the deal as crucial to winning over some wavering Conservative lawmakers, who have cited the backstop arrangement -- which guarantees an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic -- as a reason to oppose it.
If the DUP “come out in favor of it, that will have a big impact,” Tory MP Chris Green told BBC Radio 4 on Sunday evening. “I’ve voted against this deal twice, but it’s now a question, do I have to accept what little is on offer and accept that this is a starting point for on-going Brexit negotiations.”
Former Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble, a unionist -- albeit from a rival party to the DUP -- said on Monday that the latest round of negotiations in Brussels has “significantly” reduced the impact of the backstop. His intervention, in a note for the Policy Exchange think tank, might help convince Tories worried about the province’s place in the U.K. to back the deal.
Hammond denied offers of extra cash for Northern Ireland were used to try to win the DUP’s support during talks on Friday, which continued through texts, emails and phone calls over the weekend.
“This isn’t about money, this is about political assurance,” Hammond said. “The discussion has been around how we are going to reassure them about our clear intention to avoid differences in regulatory approach growing up between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”
There was a blow to May’s hopes of winning over Parliament when the Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson used his column in Monday’s Telegraph newspaper to double down on his opposition to her deal and question the wisdom of a vote before EU leaders meet on Thursday.
“There is an EU summit this week. It is not too late to get real change to the backstop,” he wrote. “It would be absurd to hold the vote before that has even been attempted.”
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour opposition, said his party will trigger a vote of no confidence in May and attempt to force a general election if her deal is defeated again.
“We’ll decide the exact moment, but quite obviously we don’t have confidence in this government’s ability and indeed Parliament doesn’t because this government has got the record for the biggest defeat ever by a sitting government,” Corbyn told Sky News. “There has to be a general election, the people of this country can decide.”
He also said his party’s MPs are likely to be instructed to back an amendment calling for a referendum on any deal approved by Parliament. He said he might back leaving the EU in such a plebiscite if the deal was right, setting up a clash with pro-EU members of his party.