Election talk sweeps parliament as Theresa May’s deal falters

Despite concessions, British parliament is in no mood for compromise

The Prime Minister battled a sore throat when addressing parliamentarians. Getty
The Prime Minister battled a sore throat when addressing parliamentarians. Getty

Losing her voice was an unpromising start for Theresa May as she opened a make-or-break Brexit showdown in the House of Commons.

As she struggled to make her words heard across the green benches, there was a gathering sense that the vote was irretrievably lost.

Mrs May implored her fellow MPs to approve the deal she has spent two years negotiating so that the British withdrawal from the EU on March 29 is orderly.

Even before she entered the chamber, the ranks of the deal’s opponents were growing.

The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, delivered a judgment that last-ditch negotiations had not changed the risks in the agreement.

A self-described star chamber of hardline Brexiteers also condemned it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the effective leader of the 80-strong Brexiteer faction in the Conservative Party, demanded days of debate, not a single sitting, to put Mrs May to the sword.

Pressing on regardless, Mrs May warned her colleagues that it was no longer credible to blame the EU for intransigence or trouble-making.

There had been a dash to Strasbourg where meetings with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the commission, delivered concessions on the fraught issue of how to keep trade flowing seamlessly across the Irish border.

“If this vote is not passed, Brexit could be lost,” Mrs May declared. “It would be no good blaming the EU. Responsibility would lie with this house .

"We failed to come together in the national interest.”

But the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland outfit that holds the balance of power, accused Brussels of sabotaging the agreement.

Sammy Wilson, the spokesman on Brexit, only appears when it is clear the DUP is in full defiance.

Mr Wilson said the party was blocking the Brexit arrangement, knowing there would be a “probably successful” later push to block or stop the departure.

Nicky Morgan, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said the dispute was one over a provision that everybody hopes was never needed for a problem that everybody hopes they would never see.

With logic like that ruling the day, it was no surprise to see Lenny Henry, who made his name as one of Britain’s great funny men, in the building.

His appearance in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday as MPs voted on the latest Brexit deal raised the prospect of some light relief.

Unfortunately, Henry was focused on his charitable works so there was no flow of gags.

Even as the vote loomed, minds had turned to consider how a way forward could be engineered from the ashes.

The only way to avoid a no-deal is to get the EU to offer an extension. But diplomats are clear that the Europeans will only offer that if there is a general election or a new referendum.

Despite the shaky composure throughout the government benches, a poll released on Tuesday showed the Conservatives leading by 10 percentage points.

The prime minister’s spokesman was clear there was no appetite for an election among his political masters.

“We are not preparing for and we do not want a general election,” the official said.

Not even Britain’s funniest man could make a joke out of that.

Updated: March 13, 2019 12:05 AM


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