U.K. Lawmakers Ratchet Up Campaign to Avert No-Deal Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- Lawmakers called on Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit, stepping up a campaign against an outcome they say threatens the livelihoods of voters.

“Manufacturing plants employ thousands of our constituents and their jobs will be put at immediate risk if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union with no deal,” some 209 lawmakers from both May’s Conservatives and opposition parties wrote in a letter to her. It “would cause unnecessary economic damage.”

U.K. Lawmakers Ratchet Up Campaign to Avert No-Deal Brexit

With less than three months to go until Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union, there’s still no clarity on how it will pan out. The deal May brokered over 18 months of painstaking talks with the bloc looks set to fall in a parliamentary vote later this month. That would put the country on track to tumble out of the bloc without a deal, putting the economy at risk as new tariffs and bureaucratic barriers strangle trade with the EU.

May on Sunday stepped up her battle to persuade opponents in Parliament to back her Brexit deal, warning the U.K. will be in “uncharted territory” if they reject her plan.

The prime minister on Sunday confirmed the vote will go ahead around Jan. 15 and outlined a three-pronged campaign to win support for the agreement. She’s proposing to give Parliament a bigger say over the future trade terms with the bloc, promising to say how the deal will work in Northern Ireland, and will seek fresh assurances from the EU.

“If the deal is not voted on at this vote that’s coming up, then actually we’re going to be in uncharted territory,” May said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction that we’ll see in Parliament.”

If she fails to secure the support of the House of Commons, May left open the dramatic option of a second referendum, while insisting she doesn’t want one. She suggested Brexit without a deal would be in the cards -- something that analysis by the Treasury and the Bank of England suggests could be economically devastating.

Aware of the risks, lawmakers are mounting a rearguard action to thwart the chance of a no-deal Brexit. A cross-party group of rank-and-file Conservative and Labour members said on Sunday that they’re seeking to amend the government’s Finance Bill to ensure its “no deal” provisions can only be implemented if Parliament allows it. Conservatives including former ministers Nicky Morgan, Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles put their name to the amendment.

U.K. Lawmakers Ratchet Up Campaign to Avert No-Deal Brexit

May’s Invitation

Their goal is to ensure that a no-deal Brexit could only be delivered with the explicit consent of Parliament -- something that’s unlikely given the opposition among lawmakers to such an outcome.

That’s illustrated by the letter to May, which was dated Dec. 17 but only publicized late on Sunday by Caroline Spelman, the Conservative former cabinet minister who coordinated it alongside Jack Dromey of Labour. Their campaign is also supported by manufacturing giants with plants in Britain including Ford Motor Co., Airbus SE and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc.

May has invited the signatories to a meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday to hear out their concerns. She’s repeatedly said that the alternatives to her agreement are “no deal” or “no Brexit.” But she declined to tell the Marr show which of those alternatives she preferred.

Debate on the deal is set to begin on Wednesday, with the vote due in the week beginning Jan. 14. May was forced to postpone the crucial vote last month, acknowledging her plan would have been overwhelmingly defeated. Since then, she’s held talks with EU leaders, seeking new assurances that she hopes will persuade skeptical politicians to back her deal. She told the BBC she’s “still working on” that.

‘Poison’

Brexiteer lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party, and her supposed allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her minority government, oppose the deal as it stands, and many say they’d be comfortable with a no-deal Brexit.

They’re concerned about the so-called backstop, a fallback position that would take effect if the U.K. and EU can’t strike a trade deal by the end of 2020. They warn it could permanently tie Britain to EU trade rules, while erecting barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

“This is not intended to be used in the first place, and if it is, it’s only temporary,” May said of the backstop.

U.K. Lawmakers Ratchet Up Campaign to Avert No-Deal Brexit

The Christmas break doesn’t appear to have dented opposition to the deal. One of May’s predecessors as Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “this deal simply doesn’t work, and, far from securing Brexit, it shackles us to the EU.” And DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said on Sunday that “fundamental problems” remain in the deal, and “the backstop remains the poison which makes any vote for the Withdrawal Agreement so toxic.”

U.K. Lawmakers Ratchet Up Campaign to Avert No-Deal Brexit

Multiple Votes

May refused six times to say whether she would seek multiple votes should Parliament reject the deal. Instead she warned pro-Brexit lawmakers not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, lest “we end up with no Brexit at all.”

The premier also refused to say whether she would implement any decision by Parliament to hold a second plebiscite, saying that “the House of Commons obviously will come to its view on these things.”

“In my view there should not be a second referendum,” May said. “It would divide our country.”

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