Minister Tells Tories to Unite and Back May's Brexit Plan
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May got a boost from a pro-Brexit cabinet member on Friday as she fights against the odds to win enough support for her deal to pass a crucial vote in Parliament.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told politicians in his own Conservative Party, as well as members of the Labour opposition, to “do what is right for our country” and back the divorce package May negotiated with the European Union. He said it was time to consign the divisions of the referendum to the past as he set out his vision for trade post-Brexit.
“The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration will not please everyone, and we have had some tough choices to make,” Fox said in a speech in Bristol, southwest England. “But the deal we’ve reached will give us a firm and stable base on which to leave the EU and build this country’s global future, a future that still encompasses Europe, of course, but also the wide fast-growing markets beyond, with all the opportunity that entails.”
May will welcome the endorsement from Fox, a longstanding euroskeptic Conservative, who had been deeply uneasy about her blueprint for maintaining close ties to the EU’s trade and customs rules. After the draft accord was finalized two weeks ago, the prime minister suffered the resignation of a group of ministers who disagreed profoundly with her plan, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.
In answer to a question on why he was backing May’s plan, Fox said that he wanted to make sure that Britain actually leaves the EU in March. “The worst thing that could happen is Brexit gets stolen” by the many Members of Parliament who supported Remain in the 2016 vote, he said.
The Trade Secretary also sought to paint an optimistic picture of Britain’s post-Brexit trade, saying that the country would be “powerful” and “play to our strengths” as it sought to change the rulebook on international trade from the inside. Fox disputed the idea that May’s deal favors Europe over the U.K.
Revolt, Critical Vote
Despite Fox’s backing, the Prime Minister still appears to have almost no chance of getting her deal through. The senior Conservatives who resigned over the plans are now leading a revolt in the Tory party that May leads, in the hope of rejecting her Brexit deal when it’s put to a vote in Parliament on Dec. 11.
If Parliament votes against ratifying the withdrawal agreement, the U.K. will be on course to fall out of the EU without a deal on March 29. Analysis from the Bank of England on Thursday suggested the economic damage of such a split would be severe.
On Thursday, May told a panel of senior members of Parliament that losing the vote would trigger preparations for a no-deal Brexit. “The timetable is such that some people would need to take some practical steps in relation to no-deal if Parliament were to vote down the deal on 11 December,” she said.
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