Pro-EU Tories Call for PM Talks to Avert Another Showdown

(Bloomberg) -- Pro-European lawmakers in Prime Minister Theresa May’s party are calling for new talks to reach a compromise on her key Brexit law, in an effort to avoid a potentially damaging showdown next week.

Former minister Stephen Hammond on Friday accused some in May’s top team of hijacking a deal that she’d struck with his pro-EU colleagues on how to give Parliament a so-called meaningful vote -- a proxy for whether lawmakers can direct the final stage of Brexit negotiations if a chaotic no-deal scenario looks imminent. The rebels rejected May’s final wording and now want to resume talks before the legislation returns to Parliament next week.

“I trust the prime minister,” Hammond told the BBC’s Today program. “Other people in the government may have either advised her badly or tried to force a statement” on her, he said, adding he’s “hopeful” new talks will be possible.

Four months before Britain is meant to have sealed a deal with the European Union on the terms of divorce, May’s ruling Conservative Party is still stuck negotiating with itself. A small group of pro-EU Tories argue that Britain needs to stay close to the bloc and want Parliament to have the power to tell the government what to do if a no-deal -- the worst-case scenario for business -- becomes a possibility.

But the government argues this is giving away too much power and would tie its hands in negotiations with the EU, while those in May’s party who want more distance from the bloc say it could be used to block Brexit altogether.

Failed Truce

This week had all been about securing a truce -- until talks fell apart on the meaningful vote issue, apparently with one side calling the other’s bluff. That leaves May facing a knife-edge vote next week on her flagship Brexit legislation in the upper House of Lords on Monday, and then a showdown with rebels in the lower chamber on Wednesday.

The government thinks some rebels are willing to switch sides to support May, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. Brexit supporters also said they were satisfied, and as a sign of May’s confidence, her officials are not planning any more compromise talks with the rebels.

The amendment deals with lawmakers’ concerns, government spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters on Friday.

That view wasn’t shared by the pro-EU Tories. The leading rebel, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, declared it “unacceptable” and later told the BBC his group would “talk further to the government and try to resolve it.”

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how May can deliver the Brexit she promised. Even if she’s replaced, the parliamentary arithmetic -- reflecting a deeply divided country -- remains the same. Much of May’s strategy so far has been fudge and delay, but those tricks are working less and less.

Meanwhile, Brussels looks on in horror. Negotiations are stalled, and this week officials talked privately about the possibility of whether the U.K. might need to stay in the bloc past March 2019 if negotiations don’t accelerate over the summer.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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