In Reprieve for Theresa May, Pro-EU Brexit Rebels Signal Retreat

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May looks likely to avoid an embarrassing rebellion in Parliament next week, as pro-European lawmakers who had sought to defeat her are starting to back down.

Conservative rebels who favor closer ties to the European Union after Brexit were planning to use a series of votes to force May into adopting their position. The key amendments call for the U.K. to remain in a customs union and the EU’s single market, and enough Conservatives had put their names to them for May to be defeated.

But the agreement the prime minister pushed through her Cabinet last week -- which argues for such close ties to the bloc that the two main Brexit supporters in her Cabinet quit -- has been welcomed by the pro-EU faction of her party. While most potential rebels said they’re waiting for the government to publish all the details of that plan in a so-called White Paper, some are already indicating they are satisfied.

The accord “is a welcome dose of reality; it is a concrete plan,” potential rebel Antoinette Sandbach said in Parliament Tuesday. “I support the outline of this plan and look forward to the publication of the White Paper. Parliament needs time to examine this document in advance of the customs and trade bills next week.”

Happy Lawmakers

Tory lawmaker Stephen Hammond, another potential rebel, said he “welcomes” the PM’s position and is awaiting the full document. Another Conservative lawmaker who was planning to rebel has been persuaded to back the government, the person said on condition of anonymity.

Dominic Grieve, the unofficial leader of the rebels, said he was waiting to see the details of May’s proposals. Anna Soubry, one of the most high-profile dissidents, offered May her congratulations on Monday.

Thirteen Conservatives put their name to an amendment to the Trade Bill -- due to be voted on next Tuesday -- calling on the U.K. to become a member of the European Free Trade Association. The Taxation Bill, which has some amendments on the customs union, is set to be debated Monday.

Meanwhile, pro-Brexit Conservatives are worried about just how cheerful their pro-EU colleagues appear.

“What makes me even more suspicious is that all the Remainers are singing and crowing to the rooftops what a marvelous prime minister she is, when only a few weeks ago they were cursing and swearing,” Tory lawmaker Richard Drax said in an interview. “They have gone quiet, which makes me very suspicious they have got what they want.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.