Tory Brexit Rebels Warn They Could `Collapse' U.K. Government

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has been warned that rebels inside her own party could bring down her government if they don’t like the final Brexit deal she negotiates with the European Union.

Pro-EU former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he had sleepless nights worrying about the choice facing Parliament when May reaches an agreement with the bloc on terms of the divorce. He said he and other Conservatives won’t support a plan that’s bad for the country and urged May to give them options when she puts the Brexit deal to Parliament for approval.

“We could collapse the government,” Grieve told the BBC as he discussed the potential impact of voting down May’s final deal. “I wake up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat thinking about the problems that we have put on our shoulders. The difficulty is that the Brexit process is inherently risky -- really risky.”

May says the House of Commons will get a straight choice between accepting the accord or rejecting it, possibly forcing the U.K. to crash out of the EU with no deal. She’s locked in a battle with Grieve, who wants Parliament to have the option of sending her back to the negotiating table if the terms of the final agreement aren’t good enough.

Mounting Pressure

Grieve’s intervention comes as May seeks to regain the political initiative amid mounting pressure from multiple sides. Rival factions in her divided party are feuding over the country’s future ties to the EU, while negotiations in Brussels are making slow progress as the clock ticks down toward the U.K.’s exit in late March.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers are privately threatening to topple May if she fails to give them the clean split they want.

On Monday, she faces a showdown in the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of the Parliament. Grieve’s pro-EU backers there are planning to rewrite her draft Brexit law to give Parliament more influence if the U.K. fails to reach a deal. If May loses the vote on Grieve’s plan Monday, there will be another fight in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Speaking to BBC television on Sunday, Solicitor General Robert Buckland said there will be no compromise before Monday’s vote, but hinted talks could take place on Tuesday if the government loses.

‘Bright Future’

On Sunday, May trumpeted her euroskeptic credentials in comments designed to shore up her support among Brexit backers who fear she’ll betray their dream. She spoke of a “bright future” for the U.K. outside the EU, as she insisted she won’t let Grieve stop Brexit.

May used an interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” to align herself with the pro-Brexit campaign’s pledge to inject billions of pounds into the state-run National Health Service.

By 2023, the NHS will be getting an extra 20 billion pounds ($26.6 billion) a year, funded in part by money no longer being spent on the U.K.’s European Union membership, May said.

May’s NHS pledge was welcomed by her pro-Brexit colleague Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary. In the 2016 referendum campaign, he toured the country in a red bus bearing the famous pledge to stop sending 350 million pounds a week to the EU and “fund our NHS instead.”

“Some people may remember seeing a figure on the side of a bus a while back of 350 million pounds a week in cash,” May said. “I can tell you that what I’m announcing will mean that in 2023-24 there will be about 600 million pounds a week, more in cash, going into the NHS. That will be through the Brexit dividend.”

The size of the U.K.’s long-term contributions to the EU -- which will determine how much money will be released to other priorities -- isn’t yet confirmed. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ director, Paul Johnson, said the government knew that the country will be worse off outside the EU. “There is no Brexit dividend,” he said. Johnson told the BBC that funding the extra health service cash would require more borrowing or a 2 percent rise in income tax.

In a separate interview on Sunday, May was asked if income tax would increase, with the highest earners paying more, to pay for her pledge. She told told LBC Radio it’s “right” to ask the country “to contribute more, but in a fair and balanced way.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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