May Poised to Admit Defeat Over Plan to Avoid European Election
(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s plan to stop Britain taking part in European elections in the middle of Brexit looks all but dead.
The prime minister is unlikely to put her Brexit bill to Parliament next week, and probably won’t have enough time to get it ratified before the European Parliament elections if she introduces it after that, according to a government official.
May was desperate to keep the U.K. out of the May 23 election, which threatens losses for her Conservative Party by highlighting the government’s failure to deliver Brexit. Despite agreeing to a six-month extension with the European Union in March, the premier’s goal has been to get her divorce deal with the EU ratified in time to avoid the vote.
The looming election adds further pressure on May’s already precarious premiership. Pro-Brexit Conservatives are pushing her to set a date for her departure to make way for a new leader, while weeks of talks with the opposition Labour Party to break the Brexit impasse appear to have stalled, with both sides demanding concessions from the other.
It now appears inevitable that May will have to accept that the U.K. must hold the European election. May’s next target will be to pass the bill by June 30, before newly elected European Parliament members take their seats, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Seeking a Majority
Parliament has rejected the deal May struck with Brussels three times. Her office suggested she might try a different approach, attempting to pass legislation to implement the deal, rather than vote on the accord itself.
While the government has left the door open to putting its Withdrawal Agreement Bill to Parliament next week, it’s unlikely to do so, according to the official. And if the bill isn’t included in the May 2 program of business for the following week, the government would have to concede the EU elections will go ahead, the official said.
On Thursday, Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom made no mention of the bill in the government’s program of business for next week.
The government has suggested it will only bring forward the legislation if it knows it has a chance of securing a majority, which effectively means persuading the main opposition Labour Party -- or some of its lawmakers -- to vote for it. Cross-party talks aimed at a Brexit compromise continued Thursday, though there are none scheduled for Friday, the official said.
If talks with Labour fail, the government has said it would hold a series of votes on various Brexit options to allow Parliament to reach a consensus. One option would be to use amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as a proxy for those so-called indicative votes, according to the official.
Yet even if the bill is announced next week, the government would face a race to get it through Parliament in time, making it inevitable that the U.K. will take part in the EU election anyway, the official said.
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