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May pleads with European leaders to save Brexit deal

By Julian Shea in London | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2018-12-12 00:28

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May returns to Downing Street in London, Britain, Dec 10, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Criticism mounts at home after key vote delayed

British Prime Minister Theresa May met European Union officials and heads of state on Tuesday in a bid to save her plans for Britain's exit from the EU next March – and possibly her own political future.

On Tuesday the House of Commons was supposed to have been voting on May's Brexit plan until just 24 hours before the vote – in which she was widely expected to suffer a heavy defeat – she announced it had been delayed, to allow her to seek "further assurances" about the part of the proposal dealing with the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

She flew out to see Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and was also expected to meet the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has stated that the EU is willing to give "further clarification" but will not "renegotiate" the deal it has already approved.

May's priority will be to get a legal guarantee that the UK will not be stuck in the Northern Ireland backstop plan indefinitely.

The backstop is a temporary customs arrangement for the border between Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and EU member state the Republic, which will come into existence if a long-term solution cannot be agreed.

This is Britain's only land border with an EU member state, and there are fears that it could lead to Northern Ireland being subject to different regulations from the rest of the UK. That would be particularly difficult for May, as her government relies upon the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, whose supporters are staunchly loyal to the United Kingdom.

Under the terms of May's proposals, the UK cannot exit the backstop agreement without approval from the rest of the EU.

The leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told the BBC's Today program that May was seeking an increased British say over the backstop as part of an "addendum" to the withdrawal proposal, rather than altering its main text, but it remains to be seen how European negotiators will respond.

While May is away trying to win support in Europe, back home the fall-out from Monday's vote cancellation continues. With the prospect of more than 100 MPs from her own party ready to vote against her, when May announced the vote delay she told the House of Commons "if we went ahead and held the vote (on Tuesday) the deal would be rejected by a significant margin".

But her decision to postpone only seems to have further stirred up her critics. Hardline Brexit supporter and influential backbench Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called it a "rotten and humiliating day" for the government, and on the opposition benches, Labour MPs have indicated they would table a vote of no confidence if May returned from Europe without significant changes as this would mean she had "decisively and unquestionably lost the confidence of Parliament".

It is not just the expected critics who are coming out against her. Sky News political correspondent Faisal Islam, who accompanied May on her trip, tweeted that he had received a message from an unnamed Conservative MP who had previously been loyal to May, saying that they would now be submitting a letter of no confidence in her.

"Her credibility is now spent. Her time is up. She will be gone by Christmas. She is now doing more harm than good. Her delaying vote made it look like she was trying to save her own political skin - rather than save the Deal," said the message.

Contact the writer at julian@mail.chinadailyuk.com

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